I finally watched my first movie of 2011 in the cinema and I’m glad to say that it was Season Of The Witch, starring Nicolas Cage, Stephen Campbell Moore, Robert Sheehan and Ron Perlman. Directed by Dominic Sena, this is a sword-and-sorcery fare that is reminiscent of Solomon Kane but with a bit more ‘American/Hollywood’ sensibilities.
Before watching this, there are already so many negative reactions for it and critics are putting this movie down… which is understandable. It’s not like the movie is anything epic and I’m quite sure everyone is wondering, “What the hell is Nic Cage doing now?” So I went into the cinema without any expectations at all, or a very low one at that, and was only hoping that I would be entertained enough so I could write an Abridged Script for it.
As soon as the movie started, though, I was immediately absorbed by it. The opening scene, with the witches hanging and drowning, and the priest getting killed before he could completely banish the demon, was exhilarating and frightening enough to captivate my attention. To be honest, the rest of the movie was not bad either. There was a good enough mix of talented actors, substantial dialogue (for once, Nic Cage didn’t try to sound smart or funny, which works quite nicely for him) and a thrilling plot to keep me on the edge of my seat throughout the film. What I liked from the plot especially was the way it didn’t try to be twisty or intelligent. It was linear, straightforward and honest.
There were scenes from the Crusades that could be interpreted as something political or religious or such nonsense like that… but to be honest? The sequence went by pretty quickly – too quickly, in fact, and in a PG-rated manner without an overdose of gore and violence, thus making Season Of The Witch a family-friendly offering – that I didn’t even have time to find any hidden heavy-handed message about anything in it. It was so low-key that this was clearly designed as a plot device and timeline setup by screenwriter Bragi F. Schut that I couldn’t even cynically say, “Ah, here we go again with the Crusades…”
Again, the movie’s strength is its simplicity. It didn’t try to be anything other than a source of entertainment that I couldn’t help but be entertained by it. Now this is not to say that the movie didn’t have any problems… there were, in fact, plenty of problems with it. The crude special effects, for one. It was as if the movie didn’t get any budget to make decent CGI screen things that I was wondering whether they’d skimp on it just to pay Nic Cage. The set design and costumes were rather underwhelming; for a period movie, oftentimes these would be one thing that helped salvage it from utter boredom, but Season couldn’t boast even this. Hair and make-up were slightly better but only by a thin margin (with the exception of Christopher Lee’s epic black plague prosthetics, though. That was pretty disgusting.) The action didn’t have that “Epic Movie” vibe that Solomon Kane had, so I once again wondered if they couldn’t get a good enough fighting choreographer… And, really, the American accent? I am pretty sure that would raise more than a few eyebrows.
Despite all that, however, the acting, the story and the theme of “faith” and “belief” were compelling enough to make me want to buy the DVD when it comes out. I also like the way we, as viewers, were made to question the truth of the witch’s so-called “witchiness”. Up to the halfway mark, we were still wondering, “Is she or is she not a witch?” And as it turned out, at the end of the movie, we find out that this was not about the witch at all. I have no idea if this is intentional or not, but I thought it was pretty damn clever.
I would even go as far as to say that this is one of the better Nicolas Cage movies, seeing as how he didn’t look like he was trying so hard to look cool. I was reminded, in fact, of how wonderful his performance was as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass. Here, as Behmen, Cage was in character all the time and managed to even convey that sense of heroism through his low-key acting. Yes, there were the occasional bad lines, but he managed it well and came out relatively unscathed from this story.
The one who truly stole the scene, though, was Cage’s co-star, the man who plays the priest Debelzaq. And while at first I failed to recognize who the actor behind the robes, the laughable haircut and the pathetic mustache was, it immediately came to me that this actor was in fact Stephen Campbell Moore.
If you guessed he was the young professor Irwin from The History Boys, then you are 100% correct.
But this man… this actor who so wowed me with how pathetically cowardly his Irwin in THB was impressed me so much in this movie. He was so subtle and yet at the same time convincing in his role as a priest who may or may not be evil, whose belief in God is absolute, and who stares at evil straight in the eye without flinching. Don’t even get me started on when he started uttering the prayers in Latin – who knew an ancient language could sound so sexy? Not even The Misfits‘ Robert Sheehan (who is obviously made to be the “dashing young hero” of the movie) can pronounce the words as convincingly as dear ol’ Stephen. You have to hand it to English theater actors: they really do know how to give Hollywood movie stars a run for their money.
This movie will definitely appeal to fans of the genre. It’s not as well made as some others but the talents alone are undeniable. Fans of British TV series will definitely be happy to see their favorite stars (Claire Foy from Being Human is also here as the witch girl) and the movie will hopefully serve as their doorway to bigger, better Hollywood movies, if they’re seeking for more popularity. I for one don’t need to see them anywhere else to be convinced of how amazing the actors are. They are easily my favorite part of Season Of The Witch.
Some will argue that this is not the best movie to start the year with but I personally am pretty satisfied with it. It’s an entertaining start to my life in the cinema this year. If any other movie can provide a talent half as good as Stephen Campbell Moore, it will already be a movie worth watching. And I do think that it can only get better from here.