I came into Season of the Witch with absolutely nothing in the way of expectation. The trailers hadn’t thrilled me, Nicolas Cage with long hair looks about as bad as Nicolas Cage with any hair style you can come up with, and with the exception of a solid director and some decent supporting players, there wasn’t all that much to be excited about. In a word, Season of the Witch may be the most surprising film of the new year. Why? Because it doesn’t suck. In fact, the production values, when given the budget they had to work with, are truly staggering. Decent scares and some terrific makeup effects abound, and the whole exercise ends up feeling quite satisfying in a weekend matinee B-movie sense. It’s entertainment, pure and simple, and it does a great job of establishing its ground-rules with a mix of nicely delivered one-liners and freaky supernatural events.
Whoever came up with pairing Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman in a medieval buddy cop setting is genius. They share a great scenery chewing chemistry that makes the whole rest of the film feel balanced and understated by comparison. The wonderfully produced battle montage that opens the movie is a real highlight because of them, and it all works to build their relationship for the journey ahead. Perlman hasn’t been getting great work since his Hellboy success, but his commitment to fun genre fare is commendable, and this is easily among the cream of the crop in that regard.
The story does a good job of including a lot of gothic horror elements, particularly in its portrayal of witchcraft. The practical effects look great, and it’s only when the filmmakers settle for CG that the scares fall painfully flat. Early stuff works really well though, building the atmosphere before delivering on the chilling premise of demonic possession and old school sorcery. It’s a classic quest narrative; complete will all the prerequisite party thinning and twists that you’ll see coming from a good distance away. Just because you think you know what’s coming, doesn’t make the trip any less exciting, and the pace is kept tight for the entire 95-minute runtime. The last twist, in particular, does a good job of kicking things up a notch, despite the lame looking CG that follows it.
Entertainment was always the name of the game, and the surprise comes from how often the film is able to be successful. Releasing the movie in the “dump” month of January may seem like a lack of faith move from the studio, when in fact Season of the Witch has a really good chance of dominating the slower months and coming away with Paul Blart level box office. It remains to be seen if audiences are still in the mood for the medieval fantasy epics, but I would imagine that those who do shell
out the cash for a ticket won’t be disappointed. Oscar-bait it certainly is not, but since when does a film have to be prestigious to be enjoyable?
For the little of your brain which you don’t wisely check at the door, there’s even subplots involving the bubonic plague that feel oddly relevant in our scapegoat happy society. Of course the witch brought the plague upon them, of course the government and the banks are solely responsible for the economic collapse. Laying blame on everyone but ourselves is a fairly universal construct, and these characters do their best to embody the different perspectives and classes that existed at the time. Would I have wanted the writers to go further? Sure, but I’d imagine that the scenes that hit the cutting room floor in the edit have a lot of character building and commentary to spare, considering the amount that still exists in the film. Season of the Witch is a satisfying exercise in old school B-movie set up and payoff, and considering how few major Hollywood releases have been able to stick the landing recently, this is a popcorn adventure that’s worth checking out.
A 14th-century Crusader (Cage) returns to his homeland, which has been devastated by the Black Plague. To appease members of the church, he and his comrade (Perlman) look to transport an accused witch (Foy) to a remote abbey, where monks hope that a ritual will end the pestilence.