As anyone who knows me is well aware, I'm a self-professed masochist; if there's an opportunity for me to experience something excruciating, I jump at it (keep that in mind, ladies). Obviously, when I saw that Season of the Witch had an abysmal 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, I simply couldn't resist. I quickly found out, however, that I was sort of in the minority on this one (who knew?!)--after petitioning all of my friends, only one was intrepid enough to brave the theaters with me. We planned the trip for early Friday morning, our mounting excitement making Thursday's sleep an ephemeral affair. I awoke that day to an act of God. In his infinite wisdom, he had bestowed upon me a migraine most malicious in an effort to prevent one of his flock from the even greater pain of watching Nicolas Cage play a disillusioned Knight in a fantasy movie.
But I am not a God-fearing man, and so, despite the advice of my friends, despite the admonitions of the critics, despite the wind and the cold and the rain, despite even the divine hand of God himself, I rose from the beanbag chair that was my bed and journeyed forth toward almost certain disappointment. After all, if The Last Airbender, a memory better left forgotten, had received a 7%, what hope did Season of the Witch have? I met Dphil, the intrepid friend, at the gates and handed my ticket to the clerk, who, with his snarling remarks, unkempt hair, and bared teeth, could have (save for the two missing heads) passed for the guardian Cerberus. My companion and I took our seats and surveyed the scene. I have to be honest with you here. It's a little disconcerting when the only other people in the theater are an old man by himself, a huge lady in a squeaky wheelchair being led by a group of friends, and someone who probably rides the short bus and kept babbling and mumbling incoherently. I mean no offense. It was simply an odd crowd.
Season of the Witch is set in England during the Crusadin' times. After a quick intro that proves witches to be all too real, we get a montage of battles in which the knights Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) kill many non-innocents, then finally, after ten years, kill some innocents. Ten years before the first undeserved death? Very impressive. Disillusioned, Behmen and Felson desert the army only to end up in a town ravaged by the plague, which is apparently caused by a hot young vixen who's got this sexy witch vibe goin' on. Setup complete, our two warrior heroes join forces with an elderly knight and the priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), ready to transport the sorceress. At this point, my buddy turns to me and says, "I can't believe they don't have a rogue in their party!" Seconds later, Nicolas Cage goes, "We need a guide!" and of course the only person who can guide them is the lock-picking ne'er-do-well swindler, Hagamar (Stephen Graham). Dungeons and Dragons team assembled, they set out for an ancient monastery, for only there can the monks cast out the witch and end the plague.
One of the better aspects of Season of the Witch is the way it keeps you guessing. It utilizes the tried-and-true "Is she a witch or isn't she" method to keep the audience interested, though I don't understand why the characters never thought to simply compare the girl's weight to that of a duck. Anyway, partway through, it simply tells you the answer. I've tried to craft this review in a similar style. Is Season of the Witch good, or is it not? I guess I've probably been leaning a little too obviously toward the "not" side, but the movie has a surprisingly good twist, and so do I. Season of the Witch was actually good! Maybe it was just because anything was better than the pain of a migraine, maybe it was because I was delirious from lack of sleep, or maybe it's because I just can't resist Nicolas Cage's entertainingly unemotional acting, but I enjoyed the hell out of this movie (like how those monks exorcised the hell out of that girl! Get it?).
Sure, it was a little bit predictable in parts, but that just made it more surprising when it caught me off guard. Yes, there was the obligatory bridge-crossing scene, with boards cracking and plummeting below the characters' feet as ropes twisted and frayed, but it was reasonably well done, and, more importantly, it wasn't there just for the sake of unnecessary suspense--the girl saves one of the characters from falling to his death, casting further doubt on her motivations. Yes, witch girl ostensibly summons a bunch of wolves to kill our heroes, but you find out later that there was more at play than you'd ever imagined. The fight scenes were pretty entertaining, I was constantly creeped out by how I was both creeped out by and attracted to the main girl, and unlike stupid The Last Airbender, the movie was surprisingly well paced. Plus, the final battle was pretty awesome. I mean seriously, what's cooler than fighting a horde of cloaked, plague-ridden, undead monks who have boils all over their faces and battle with fearsome hooks in a room that's on fire and filled with shelves of scrolls that go flying whenever someone's thrown into them? All this while a priest epically incants an unnerving Latin ritual in the background, hoping to slay the giant winged demon that seeks to end all human life.
I honestly don't see how this movie got so many negative reviews. The dialogue was a little campy, especially the lines delivered by Hagamar, like "This damn fog is like a veil before my eyes," or directly after, "I can't see my hand in front of my face." As cliché as some of it might have been, Season of the Witch had enough new ideas that, when coupled with a hot girl, some twists and scares, and a general sense of fun, it ended up being well worth the price of a matinee ticket.
Don't just take my word for it, though. I have proof that this was a "great" film. You see, I was so totally engaged that I didn't even notice that, by the end of the film, everyone else had walked out! If that's not hard evidence, I don't know what is. The credits rolled and I looked around, extremely pleased that I'd decided to see such a fine film, only to find that there was literally no one in the theater. Had they ever even been there? How could I not hear someone get creakily wheeled out of the room? How could I not notice the babbling babbler leave the theater? Where did the old man go?! I was sure a witch had cursed me. Like I said, it must have been a damn good movie! I'd been looking forward to being able to tear this film apart, but I walked out of the theater perplexed: How was I supposed to write an entertaining review now? Just then, Dphil turned to me, and, as if he could see into my soul, said, "Russ, you're just going to have to use nuance." And, as you, the reader, are my witness, this is a review so nuanced that it knows no equal. I braved the wrath of God and more to bring it to you and returned from my quest unharmed (which, for a masochist, is rather disappointing). Someday, I hope to craft a movie of my own with as much nuance and subtlety as Season of the Witch, but until then, I must simply award it:
Honestly, the worst thing about this movie was the way the sound kept cutting in and out. Perhaps it was another attempt by God to intervene, but I brazenly ignored him, sitting through what seemed like the worst dubbing ever because, darn it, I paid good money for this!
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