FilmSlashTV: ‘Season of the Witch’

Jan. 19, 2011 | 1 Comment

Courtesy of Relativity

Two Stars

Guns are fun in movies, but bashing about with broadswords speaks to the 12-year-old in all of us. What we’ve got here is a kind of spooky, Medieval road picture in which two knights are given the task of transporting a young lady in a horse-drawn cage from one muddily dank Dark Ages hamlet to another. The catch — she’s supposed to be a witch. And they aren’t kidding.

Directed by Dominic Sera as a kind of giddy homage to Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” — that is, if Bergman worked for Marvel Comics — “Witch opens with three terrified women accused of witchcraft. They’re both hung by the neck and doubly drowned. And suddenly we discover the townspeople aren’t just paranoid about witchcraft, they have good reason to be worried.

Jump to a couple of knights doing the Crusade thing in about a million pitched battles, all of which are helpfully labled and dated. After a dozen years of head-lopping, gut-stabbing and the occasional rape/pillage, the knights decide this isn’t quite the career they signed up for and head home. It’s a long walk from Istanbul to Paris, and it takes you through the middle of witch country, which seems in permanent eclipse.

The knights are played by Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, and alas, these two enjoyably idiosyncratic actors dial it down. Cage in particular is mostly dour and driven, whilst Perlman does that clenched-fist thing he does with his face.

The road is replete with horrors ranging from plague victims to evil forests to scary suspended bridges. This is all played perfectly straight and is suitably atmospheric. The lady in the cage also starts to play with their heads. Is she a witch or isn’t she? Inevitably, the movie trots out a variation of the we’re-going-to-need-a-bigger-boat meme from “Jaws,” a favorite screenwriter’s crutch.

“Season of the Witch” is reliably spooky, and quite artfully good at suggesting that the Dark Ages weren’t all fun and jousting, and the swordfights are awkward and brash, as they should be; these knights aren’t dandies with epees. They’re professional slaughterers with a diminishing belief in God.

The movie works pretty well up into the last set piece, which is grand, thuddingly potent F/X chaos, but it’s also a direct lift from the ending of “The Mummy,” so it’s deja vu all over again.