Saturday, January 08, 2011

Season of the Witch

It's Not Me, Honest!

Season of the Witch is getting ravaged by reviews as I write this. Is it that bad? I don't think so. Is it fantastic then? Well no. This is one of those sword and sandal fantasy films that tread the middle ground, having an interesting premise set up in a fantasy fellowship quest, only for the execution to be hovering around mediocre standards following a rote formula of introducing the problem, gathering the players, and have them encounter sequence after sequence of battle obstacles on the way to their objective.

Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman play buddies Behman and Felson respectively, knights of the Crusade who make a reputation of being fearsome warriors fighting for a higher cause, only to desert their army and turning their backs from continuing onto Jerusalem after realizing that they are nothing but fighting pawns for the whims of man. Their services get called for by a town inflicted by a plague because of a curse by a girl (Claire Foy) whom they deem a witch, and the agreement forged was for them to escort her to a monastery for a group of monks to decide on the authenticity of the claim, and if so, decide and inflict punishment.

Gathering Priest Debelzag (Stephen Campbell Moore), guide Hegamar (Stephen Graham), one of the remaining fighting fit soldiers of the town with Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen) and a priest in training Kay (Robert Sheehan) whom the party picked up early in their journey, the group has to band together if they are to get to their destination in one piece, with the accused girl being locked up in a cage but always seem to be drawing undue attention to herself, raising questions about her innocence as we get to see her demonstrate abilities and superhuman strength even, while putting on a saccharine sweet face. Now while all these may point to certain plot loopholes and irrational human behaviour, I'm willing to overlook these flaws since they do get addressed in the final reveal, so all's not totally lost in Bragi F. Schut's story.

Battle sequence design was a little sleepy, and although the introductory big battle scenes involving soldiers of the Crusade were plentiful, it didn't go beyond the usual slash-parry-stab-wash-rinse-repeat cycle coupled with cheesy dialogue exchange between Behman and Felson that try to pass off as comedy. There's an awfully long and painfully executed crossing of a creaky bridge that doesn't seem to want to end, but otherwise passable CG was employed in an attack of wolves, and the money shot in the final battle where all hell breaks loose in the monastery with grotesque looking winged beasts and the expected big boss to fight in an all out melee done arcade style.

Some will probably find the themes here quite objectionable, especially since it sets its sights squarely on how religion gets manipulated by the few, and made suggestive queries what if the Crusade wasn't a calling made by god as claimed by the messengers, but of more negative forces since it involves the killing of innocents. What more, this was played out in quite direct fashion when the final act made that cross-reference in point blank fashion. It's bold in its statement and association, which otherwise the story here lacks any selling points to make an audience sit up and take notice

I'm not sure what Ron Perlman is doing here - the billing on the poster doesn't seem to give him much respect, preferring to marquee Cage alone instead, so while there are inside nods to Hell and the devil and demons here, I'm hoping that we'll get to see another installment of Hellboy instead. Under Dominic Sena's vision, you'd know what to expect when you scan through his resume, being responsible for flicks like Whiteout, Swordfish, and yet another Nicolas Cage starrer in Gone in Sixty Seconds. They're no more than Guilt Trips with potential not lived up to, so don't expect a classic or a masterpiece, but at best entertainment that will struggle to satisfy jaded audiences.

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