Season of the Witch

January is a cold, dead month.  The trees are leafless with the branches resembling the gnarled hands of a stereotypical witch.  Theatres are just as dead and barren as this time of year.  The Oscar contenders of December are still out, but they are being joined by films that couldn’t win a dog show if they were the only entries.  Occasionally a good film pops up in the first month of the year; but, these days are usually a graveyard where studios dump movies they know are not going to be thought of at awards time.  What would this week’s movie, “Season of the Witch,” bring to the table?  Would it be a curse or a blessing?

In the fourteenth century, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlmen), two knights fighting in the Crusades, become disillusioned with killing women and children in God’s name and desert their comrades in the Holy Land.  On their journey home they enter a village whose occupants are quickly dying due to the Black Plague.  Since there is nothing they can do, Behmen and Felson plan on buying some horses and continuing on; but, the pair is discovered to be deserters and thrown in the dungeon.  Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), a high-ranking priest brings the pair before Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee).  D’Ambroise explains the plague is caused by the Black Witch (Claire Foy) and she must be taken to a monastery where the monks will decide her guilt or innocence.  At first refusing, Behmen, haunted by the innocent lives he took during the Crusades, agrees to transport the witch along with Felson, another knight, Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen) whose wife and child died from the plague, and Debelzaq.  The group will be guided by Hagamar (Stephen Graham), a swindler who has traveled to the monastery in the past and knows a safe route.  Just after their journey has begun, they are joined by a teenaged boy named Kay (Robert Sheehan) whose father was a knight and he hopes to follow in his footsteps.  Along the road to the monastery, the witch displays physical strength and personal knowledge about her guards she shouldn’t possess.  Is she a witch or is something else going on?

By the time you discover the truth about the Black Witch you won’t care as the boring journey will suck all the interest from you.  “Season of the Witch” has an interesting supernatural premise that is wasted on an overly long, dull road trip.  While there are several action sequences, featuring a cast of thousands of CGI soldiers and perhaps a dozen real people, these tend toward the generic with slow-motion sword fights consisting on one or two swipes, a spray of blood (if you’re lucky) then moving on to the next nameless, faceless infidel.  Once the action shifts to the monastery journey, there are several long sections of overly serious talk punctuated by brief bits of peril.  None of it is terribly interesting or even very well done.  At the trip’s end, we are treated to a CGI monster that looks about as realistic as a paper doll.

None of the actors comes off looking too bad, or too good either.  Cage and Perlman are not what I would call a believable buddy team.  Neither man seems all that interested in being there.  Cage plays most of the movie in a near slumber with occasional thunderous outbursts of righteous rage.  Perlman has a tough-man type he plays in nearly every movie that is on display here as well (think Hellboy without the makeup).  The best work in the cast comes from Claire Foy as the witch.  Equal parts victim, aggressor and temptress, Foy gives what could have been a very two-dimensional character some depth far exceeding what one might expect.  The rest of the cast does what they are asked and little more.

“Season of the Witch” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content.  Several victims of the plague, both living and dead, are seen, many with large boils.  A dog is shown feeding on a corpse.  There are several acts of violence, ranging from large battles to one-on-one attacks to repelling an attack by wolves.  There are a few instances of foul language.

January is the month when studios dump movies they know aren’t very good and “Season of the Witch” is a prime example of that.  It’s also another example of the bad wigs Nicolas Cage is forced to wear in his movies.  While it isn’t the worst hair I’ve seen on Cage (that honor would have to go to the movie Bangkok Dangerous), I don’t know why his own short cut and receding hairline isn’t good enough for most filmmakers.  Of course, Cage not wearing a wig wouldn’t have improved the quality of this movie.  This is merely an example of how bad the film was that I would give his style of hair so much thought.  I can’t wait until January is over.

“Season of the Witch” gets two guitars.

Masked heroes and unmasking infidelity are on the menu at your local theatres this week.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.

The Dilemma—Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder star in a comedy about friendship, fidelity and secrets.

The Green Hornet—Seth Rogen stars as rich playboy Britt Reid who joins forces with the talented Kato to fight the criminal underworld as masked heroes.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any movie currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Questions?  Send them to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.