No, this isn’t a documentary about Christine O’Donnell’s recent Senate campaign in Delaware. That would be a lot more entertaining. As it is, “Season of the Witch” is a nutty tale of medieval magic and obscurantism. Filled with poorly-staged derring-do, puerile gags and sloppy effects, it may remind you of the movies of Uwe Boll.
But it’s actually directed by Dominic Sena, who’s known for such previous cinematic classics as “Swordfish,” “Whiteout” and the remake of “Gone in 60 Seconds.” It was probably Nicolas Cage’s earlier collaboration with him in “Seconds” that induced the actor to take on the part of Behmen, a crusader who, returning home from the Middle East after deserting the ranks of holy warriors, finds Europe in the throes of the Black Death. (The chronological absurdities of Bragi F. Schut’s script will be passed over in silence here, as there are too many to enumerate.) Amidst popular fear that evil forces are behind the plague, he and his also on-the-lam comrade Felson (Ron Perlman) are forced by ecclesiastical authorities to transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to a remote monastery where she’s to be tried and subjected to a rare ritual that, it’s hoped, will relieve the pestilence. They’re accompanied by Debelzag (Stephen Campbell Moore), a high-minded priest; Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen), a principled knight; Hagamar (Stephen Graham), an untrustworthy guide; and Kay (Robert Sheehan), an eager altar boy who dreams of becoming a knight himself.
What happens along the way is the stuff of bad graphic novels, though the screenplay appears to be an original. The travelers confront strange dangers, making the girl’s nature more and more suspect. They have to traverse a rickety bridge that threatens to collapse beneath them. In a fearsome forest they confront a pack of ravenous wolves whose jaws expand and teeth lengthen, CGI-style, to suggest some supernatural power is controlling them.
Then the group gets to the abbey, where all hell—or at least most of it—breaks loose, as does the CGI, big-time. The big event here is the appearance of old Lucifer himself, looking rather like one of Ray Harryhausen’s classic stop-motion critters, who’s accompanied by a small army of zombified monks. Many of the little band die heroically in the defeat of the demonic forces, but enough remain alive to never let it be forgot that once there was a spot…sorry, different medieval fantasy.
“Season of the Witch” is utter nonsense, juvenile in the banter between Behmen and Felson and crude in its view of the religious establishment, which is variously depicted as cruel and corrupt and as the repository of mystical incantations of incredible power. It really doesn’t benefit from the presence of Cage, who’s capable of putting his outsized persona to good use in good films but too often opts to apply it to really bad material where his lack of restraint is simply embarrassing. (For every “Kiss Ass” or “Bad Lieutenant” there are two or three movies like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and this is another of them.) Perlman does his usual grumpy shtick, absent the “Hellboy” makeup. Everyone else seems more intent on keeping a straight face while reciting the inane dialogue, but it’s good to see the courtesy accorded to Christopher Lee, who’s permitted to play his entire single scene lying in bed—although all the facial makeup must have been torture to wear.
Cinematographer Amin M. Mokri contributes largely dim, dreary visuals drained of color, until the final scene when the demonic curse has been broken and bright blue skies replace the gloomy clouds. That’s about the extent of the movie’s sense of style.
“Season of the Witch” is such silly claptrap that it raises the question: could Dominic Sena possibly be Uwe Boll’s pseudonym?