Season of the Witch (2011) – By Duane L. Martin

Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) are best friends, and a pair of crusader knights who’ve seen their share of battles. For over ten years they fought, but when they were lied to about who inhabited a place they had been ordered to attack, and countless women and children were slaughtered, the two became disgusted with the church and walked out on the crusader army. As the two traveled, they came upon a farm house where the goats and cows were wandering free with no shepherd in sight. Upon investigating the farm house, they found two people dead in the bed, riddled with the plague. After burning the house, the moved on to the next city, where they found that it had been plague ravaged as well.

While procuring some horses, the two are discovered to be deserters and arrested and placed in a cell next to a girl (Claire Foy) who’s been accused of being a witch. After a short time, the two are summoned by Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee), who himself has been ravaged by the plague, and asked to take on a mission. He wants them to escort the witch to a monastery six days ride away, where she is to be tried for witchery. They believe she’s the cause of the plague, and the monks have the last known copy of The Book of Solomon in their possession, which contains rites and rituals that have been used and passed down through the centuries to banish evil entities from the world. The two accept on the condition that they receive a full pardon. On the journey, they’re accompanied by a priest named Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), another knight named Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen), an altar boy who wants to be a knight named Kay (Robert Sheehan), and a scam artist named Hagamar (Stephen Graham), who knows the way and is freed from the stocks on the condition that he lead them there. The rest of the film details the experiences of that journey, and brings us to the final showdown at the monastery, where all is revealed.

Ok, I’m going to break with many of my fellow reviewers out there. I actually liked this film. Yes I know it has problems, but I don’t care. I still enjoyed it. I’ll talk about the three major problems first just to get those out of the way, and then tell you why I ultimately ended up enjoying the film.

Problem #1: The accents were all over the place. You’d expect in a film based on Euopean characters that they’d all have European accents. You’d think…huh? Nicholas Cage sounded American, Ron Perlman has always had this quality to his voice that makes his origins sound indeterminate, the witch girl sounded Irish, etc…. The worst of all was Stephen Graham, who sounded like he just walked out of Brooklyn. The guy was born in Liverpool. Why the hell did he sound like he just fell out of Brooklyn??? Anyway, that variety of accents really took a lot of the realism out of the characters.

Problem #2: The CGI was crappy. Most of it looked no better than stuff you’d see in a SyFy original movie. The worst was probably the scene where the witch lights the cage cart on fire and the bars melt away.

Problem #3: The ending. The ending was ok, but the alternate ending included on the disc is WAY WAY WAY better, and should have been the one they used for the film. I’m absolutely baffled why they chose to go with the ending they did. It’s basically about 80% the same, only instead of a demon popping out, you have the demon possessed girl trying to stop them and destroy the book instead. Not only was that a far better way to go, but it was more consistent with the story and looked way better than some cheesy demon. The whole demon thing felt like it kind of came out of nowhere, and the voice they used for the demon was terrible.

Now, what did I enjoy about the movie? Well…

While I usually don’t care much for Nicolas Cage, I thought he actually did a pretty decent job in this film. As for Ron Perlman, I’ve been a fan since his first film appearance in Quest for Fire. He’s had a huge film and televison career, including such greats as the aforementioned Quest for Fire, The City of Lost Children, Hellboy and many many others. He’s also incredibly well known for his role as Vincent on television’s Beauty and the Beast series along with co-star Linda Hamilton. Another film he’s appeared in that’s a particular favorite of mine is called I Sell the Dead, though he doesn’t feature as prominently in that one. It’s always a pleasure to see him in anything, and the chemistry between he and Cage actually works really well in this film. In fact, the chemistry between all the actors across the board works really well. Combine that with a pretty decent story, and you have a film that not only holds your attention, but will keep you interested and entertained until the very end.

Something else I really liked about the film was the whole look of it. The plague victims looked absolutely ghastly, the city they were in was little more than a plague ridden crap hole, the monastery actually looked like an authentic old monastery, etc…. The costume design was also great, and very appropriate for the time. The whole look of it (minus the CGI) just really worked well, which is a huge part of the reason the CGI looked SO out of place. This is another reason the alternate ending worked so much better than the one they used. It lacked most of the cheesy CGI, and replaced it with some simple, very nice looking visual effects on the girl to make her look possessed.

The copy I used for this review is the new blu-ray release of the film from 20th Century Fox. The visual quality is excellent on this release, as is the sound (English 5.1 DTS-HD or French 5.1 Dolby Digital). For special features, it includes deleted scenes, a featurette called Becoming the Demon, another featurette called On a Crusade, and the aforementioned alternate ending. It also includes a digital copy, but it’s not a combo pack, so it doesn’t include a DVD version of the film.

I know a lot of people have said that this movie wasn’t all that great, though I have heard a few say that they liked it. I personally enjoyed it, and I think most of our readers will as well.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film’s website at http://seasonofthewitchmovie.com. The film itself can be purchased at any of the usual outlets.