The Middle (C)Ages: 'Season of the Witch' Review
Portraying the middle-ages, like many things in Hollywood, is something a lot of people attempt to do, but very few truly accomplish. The Medieval times as an era is a hallmark of cinematic history. It is as present and perennial as the sands of the Colosseum to the plains of the Wild West. It has been recreated, readapted, and reimagined, for every genre, audience and box office rating. But, what separates the Bravehearts from the King Arthurs?
It’s all about choosing a dimension of medieval fiction and sticking with it. Will the film center on the fantastical and supernatural middle ages with dragons, trolls, and sorcerers? Or, will it take a darker, more candid approach, with a gritty realism that is unafraid to show the primitive, brutal mass murder that was medieval warfare. Why some films fail, is because they’re incapable of sticking to the story they want to tell because they can’t remain faithful to their chosen dimension of fiction. While Game of Thrones is a spectacular marriage of the two examples, most films don’t have 70 hours of screen time to flesh out a story that intricate and layered.
Season of the Witch is a medieval fantasy that fails in part – but not wholly – due to the reasons above. Starring Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman as crusaders, Season of the Witch follows the pair on their mission to deliver a supposed witch to a remote monastery to be judged. As they travel the long and dangerous path, Behmen (Cage) develops an interest in the witch and her soon-to-be doled out punishment.
What’s most frustrating about this film is that it wrestles (for an albeit short time) with some genuinely provoking thoughts. Benhem and Felson (Perlman) are two reliable warriors in God’s quest but come to the realization that for all their fighting and killing in the name of religion they aren’t producing much in the way of good. The film even delves into the corrupt political forces behind the Crusades and the Church’s abuse of power justified in the name of God. What’s more, as Benhem learns more about the “witch,” he questions whether or not she can do what it’s claimed that she can. Even if she is a witch, does that necessarily make her evil? Can she possess supernatural gifts without succumbing to evil intentions? Is that same level of power not a reflection of how the Church became a military authority and began commanding men to sin themselves?
But, for all its fleeting moments of small creative ingenuity, the film succumbs to run-of-the-mill medieval clichés. A majority of the dialogue is cut and paste, the banter between Cage and Perlman has its moment but for the most part is mostly invisible among the messy editing and poor plot logic. As for fictional dimension, the film shows that there’s a clear supernatural/religious power structure parallel that can be explored but decides instead to mention it, pique some interest to those paying attention, and subsequently throw it out the window because the studio demanded an action-packed, CGI filled final act. What could have been an intelligent yet imaginative plot narrative instead became ambiguous, contrived and predictably typical Hollywood schlock.
Despite Perlman’s best efforts, his brand of charisma can’t lift this movie out of the congested, annual-period-action-piece mud it was born and baptized in. As for Cage and his Chad Kroeger haircut, let’s just say the hair extensions should’ve done the talking instead.
For a more well written, thought out, and filmed exploration of similar topics, I recommend Christopher Smith’s Black Death instead. As for this film, it’s probably best to avoid it like the plague.