Written by: Daron Taylor, Special to CC2K
It’s difficult to pin down when exactly during my second viewing of Season of the Witch, I decided it was awesome. Could it have been during the long Crusade battle montages or when a hapless priest echoed one of the best movie lines ever, “we’re gonna need more holy water”? Or maybe I was mesmerized by the mist wafting through Nicolas Cage’s hair piece. Season of the Witch (now conveniently available on Netflix streaming) is a buddy movie/supernatural thriller set in the 14th century, and it centers on two knights of the Crusades, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman). After almost a decade of killing and raping and general Crusadery, Behmen and Felson decide to call it quits after Behmen finally(!) kills an innocent civilian. They find their way to a village beset by a nasty plague and surrounded by a insanely large flock of ravens hungry for diseased flesh. There they are arrested as deserters, and in return for their freedom Sir Christopher Lee (sporting some truly great facial gore) gives them the task of escorting the witch accused of starting the plague (Claire Foy) to a monastery where, at Behmen’s insistence, she might be given a fair trial. The film moves quickly through the disposal of Behmen and Felson’s various travelling companions on to its finale, where it descends into pure, glorious CG chaos.
The director, Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds), was inspired by Ingmar Berman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), and in Season of the Witch it’s easy to see the basic parallels. In The Seventh Seal, a disillusioned knight returning from the Crusades encounters Death along the road. In Season of the Witch, Behmen does indeed encounter a shit-ton of death. Season even approximates the spiritual search of Seal’s main character although it leaves most of that mental exercise by the wayside in favor of magnificent sword-swinging violence and packs of giant CG wolves.
The emotional core of the movie is the brotherly bond between Felson and Behmen. As they travel the wilds of medieval Europe they banter back and forth about home, religion, swordfighting and other knightly pursuits. Perlman is, as always, the loveable brute (see Hellboy (2004) – No, really, go see it) and he and Cage whip up some good camaraderie. The development of their relationship comes at the price of any kind of character development for their travelling companions, but no matter – Those extraneous characters are simply fodder for what amounts to be the witch’s amusement. Claire Foy’s witch, known as “the girl”, is delightful in an “is-she or isn’t-she actually-an-agent-of-Satan” kind of way. With her pretty, innocent looks she cleverly plays on Behmen’s religious doubts and uses her witchy-ways to create havoc and mistrust among the travelling companions. To its credit Season of the Witch does actually treat witchcraft as genuinely powerful and scary, something that is unfortunately very rare in film. Besides Dario Argento’s gore-filled Suspiria (1977) and perhaps The Blair Witch Project (1999) (in which you didn’t actually SEE any witches) scary witches have been too few and far between. Season of the Witch may not be a dedicated horror film, but the witch at its center is sufficiently creepy and the plague makeup is finely detailed down to the tiniest exploding pustule. And all the while Nic Cage, and his greatest hair piece yet, gamely hack and slash their way through the movie. Kudos goes to Cage for picking a role that is at least somewhat different from that of his three previous films. Cage said in an interview that he picked the role because: “I wanted to learn sword fighting; I wanted to learn how to ride a horse – all those things I had not done before” (via Entertainment News Wire). Not a bad reason to pick a project, Nic. I’ve long suspected that half of all movies are greenlighted simply so the cast and crew can travel to fun, exotic locales and play dress up. Or pay their back taxes.
Many may bemoan the loss of the unpredictable, vibrant Nic Cage we saw in Wild at Heart (1990), Adaptation (2002) or Leaving Las Vegas (1995). But this new Nic Cage is so much more fun. Season of the Witch has proven that Nicolas Cage has the distinction of being one of the few actors who are actually talented but will accept any role for the payment of a turkey sandwich. That makes him a genuine wild card. What will he do next?? Probably the same movie he just did, with slightly different plot details (see the Nic Cage Plot Generator – http://www.cracked.com/funny-118-nicolas-cage/). The better question is: is he just fucking with us? Cage has said in an online chat with readers of Empire Online that the one character he’d like to revisit is Edward Malus from the much maligned 2006 film The Wicker Man – Only this time he’d take The Wicker Man to Japan… and Malus would be a ghost. It’s unclear if Cage cracked up laughing after saying that. But it could be that Nic Cage has finally risen to the level of self awareness of say Samuel L. Jackson or Chuck Norris. Which brings both he, and Season of the Witch to a level of meta-awesome that is just a hell of fun to sit back and watch.
I give Season of the Witch five out of five Nicolas Cage Wicker Man bee-faces.