Season of the Witch
20th Century Fox
Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
There will probably be spoilers in this review of the DVD for Season of the Witch, so don’t be shocked if I give too much away. There are some things I want to talk about, and I don’t see any way around it without disclosing certain particular points of the movie. But, let’s wait and see what happens.
First of all, I really enjoyed Season of the Witch, starring Nicolas Cage as Behmen and Ron Perlman as his partner, Felson. The story takes place during the Middle Ages when the Crusades in the Holy Land are going on, and the Black Death is spreading throughout Europe, wiping out over half of the population. This film got so many bad reviews when it came out at the beginning of the year that I had no desire whatsoever to see it on DVD. That changed when I was watching another movie last weekend and caught a preview of Season of the Witch. The trailer caught my attention and triggered my interest in getting a copy of the movie. Needless to say, when I watched the film today, I did so with trepidation. Thankfully, the movie proved to be highly entertaining to me. In fact, I enjoyed the film so much that I intend of watching it again.
Keep in mind that this isn’t Kingdom of Heaven, but I still had a lot of fun with the movie, including its storyline, the acting, the set design, the cinematography, and the special effects.
The story begins with Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as knights, fighting in the Crusades. They’re dressed as Knights’ Templars, but it’s never mentioned if they are Templars or not. What comes out during the first ten minutes of the film is that both men are courageous and have killed many of the Church’s enemies in battles before finally becoming disillusioned with the whole mess and the reasons behind the war. After a senseless battle in which women and children are murdered, Cage and Perlman decide they’re had enough and leave. Of course, this is called desertion and if they’re caught, it also means death for both of them.
When Cage and Perlman make their way back to Europe (it’s never clear exactly what country they end up in, but English is spoken there), they arrive at a town where the Black Death has killed a large majority of its populace. They are soon recognized by the seal on their swords and arrested for desertion (I did find this a little hard to swallow). The two knights are then presented to the Cardinal (played by the great, but unrecognizable Christopher Lee in heavy makeup) and offered the opportunity of avoiding death on the condition they escort a young woman (known only as the Girl and played wonderfully by Claire Foy) to a remote monastery where the monks will judge her to be a witch or not. Since Nicolas Cage is still somewhat overwhelmed with his part in the killing of innocents, he agrees to do it for both him and his partner, but only if she receives a fair trial. I don’t think there was ever such a thing as a fair trial during the Dark Ages.
Anyway, the journey through the mountains and valleys and other villages proves to be a test of strength and endurance when faced with the dangerous obstacles they have to overcome in getting to the monastery. A priest (played by Stephen Campbell Moore) and another knight (played by Stephen Graham) accompany them to the monastery. They are led there by a thief (played by Ulrich Thomsen), who has also avoided a death sentence by agreeing to be their guide. They’re soon joined by one of the Cardinal’s young assistants, a teenage boy who wants to become a knight like Cage and Perlman. Some members of the group die during this journey. The really big climatic scenes occur when they finally reach the monastery and the truth of whether or not the Girl is actually a witch.
As I stated at the beginning of this review, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. This wasn’t a film with a big budget, but they made each dollar count. The set designs and locations for Europe during the Middle Ages are right on, and the dark, moody atmosphere that gripped every small town or village during this time period is perfectly captured. Remember, this was a time when a woman could be burned at the stake for the most stupid reasons. Everything and everyone was filthy with dirt and grime, and there was no personal hygiene. Few people grew old during this period, dying at an early age due to war, famine, and the Plague. It was a time of innate fear and superstition, and the Church ruled with an iron fist as it sought to gain power over the lands and its people.
I felt totally comfortable with the acting in the movie. Everyone played their part as realistically as possible. I have to admit, however, that Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are not normally the type of actors who play knights during the Middle Ages. Still, they won me over with their performances. I especially like Claire Foy as the Girl. Throughout the first half of the film, you’re not sure if she’s innocent of the charges or not. She plays the role perfectly, luring us in and then surprising us with a total switch in personalities. Though I knew his deep, resonant voice, I didn’t recognize Christopher Lee as the Cardinal. Of course, he was dying from the Plague and had large protrusions on his forehead and a lip that was permanently etched upward in a type of snarl.
The journey to the monastery reminded me a little bit of the journey taken to Count Dracula’s castle. You just know something bad is going to happen along the way. I mean it’s foggy in the woods, and there seems to be a sense of menace at every turn.
The Special Effects were well done, except for the demon at the end. A stuntman played the part the demon in a body suit for a few shots, which was fine by me. Other than that, the demon was computer generated and didn’t look real enough.
The beginning of the movie was great when three women were accused of witchcraft and hung off the side of a bridge. What happens after they were executed certainly caught me off guard.
There was a scene near the end when everyone is attacked inside the monastery and the priest is lying on the floor. He’s says, “I think we’re going to need more holy water.” This reminded of the scene from Jaws, when Roy Scheider first sees the giant shark and says, “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Now, as far as Extras go, this DVD has a segment on the making of a demon, the creating the Crusades, deleted scenes, and an alternate ending. The deleted scenes were all good, and I don’t know why they weren’t kept in the movie. Since the film is only ninety minutes long, another ten minutes wouldn’t have done any damage and would have given the audience more information in understanding what was going on. I also liked the alternate ending much better than the one used in the movie. It worked better for me and answered the question of why Nicolas Cage was bleeding from a stomach wound, instead of the back wounds he incurred when fighting the demon.
All in all, this was a special little treat for a Saturday afternoon. The movie isn’t as bad as critics make out. I’m happy I saw the preview for Season of the Witch and then decided to watch the movie. I often think that if film critics don’t occasionally bad-mouth a movie, they don’t feel as if they’re doing their job. Well, no one is paying me for this review so I can say exactly what I please. Give this film a try. You might find out like me, that it’s actually a lot of fun to watch as long as it’s not taken too seriously.