DVD Review: ‘Season of the Witch’

After getting a lot of initial buzz for its script, Season of the Witch was plagued with numerous release delays until it finally found a home in the cinematic dumping grounds known as January – aside from Cloverfield, which defied the odds, NOTHNG good ever comes out that early in the year. Star Nicolas Cage recently showed that he still had the zany energy that once made him a sought-after actor with Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans or, as I like to refer to it, an insane movie made by insane people. Still, the release date omen prevailed, Cage gave his most boring performance of the year and Season of the Witch ended up being a plodding, sluggish mess with a whole lot of nothing for a plot.
Disgusted with what people do in the name of God and ashamed of their own actions as knights in the Crusades, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) become nomads, traveling the land in search of atonement. Passing through a town where the Black Death has all but wiped it out, the two men are identified as deserters and charged by the local cardinal (Christopher Lee) to transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to a famous monastery for religious cleansing or face death for deserting the church. Not in the mood to die, the two men take up what could be considered the blandest escort mission of all time, alongside a nervous monk (Stephen Campbell Moore), a con man (Stephen Graham) and a young wannabe knight (Robert Sheehan).

Season of the Witch practically becomes a video game once they get on the road. They stop to fight wolves, take 10 minutes to cross a rickety old bridge, chase the escaped witch and a few other useless things that do nothing to further the plot. And then there’s the finale, in which the audience realizes they’ve been duped the whole time (which I actually think is one of the only interesting thing going on in the film), only to have it turn into this ridiculous CGI-laden action set piece that even Stephen Sommers would cringe at.

Perlman is infinitely more charismatic and heroic as Behmen’s side-kick, throwing out one-liners and having the gruff attitude that would’ve made the lead character more compelling. In fact, all of the supporting actors give decent performances, even if their characters don’t develop too much over the course of the film.

Dominic Sena, who used to have a visual style whether it was for better or worse, seems like he’s just going through the motions, using the colorless, stodgy locations and scenery one would expect a lazy, cheap fantasy flick to have. Dark forests and decrepit castle-like structures are the order of the day, and there’s no personality to them whatsoever. The script, which was apparently considered “good” at one point, isn’t much help either. Screenwriter Bragi F. Schut sets up a story where the characters are fed up with man and his interpretation of what God wants, throw down their swords and decide to only serve a higher power and not mortals. But, after taking up the cardinal’s charge in exchange for their lives and also as a penance of sorts for their past misdoings, Schut decides that the two ex-knights have to suddenly be conflicted over their faith, without any explanation as to why. They hate man and refuse to serve him, not God, and yet the witch constantly challenges their allegiance. To prove what exactly? It doesn’t make a lick of sense.

There’s a few unintentional laughs scattered throughout Season of the Witch (the return of Cage’s Con Air hairpiece alone is worth a chuckle or two) to make it a passable Saturday afternoon SyFy staple, but its confused message, meandering plot and stupefying finale will never let it rise above that. Maybe it was rewrites or maybe it was having too many cooks in the kitchen during its long road to the big screen, but whatever the reason, Season of the Witch is a mess.

Special Features

Deleted Scenes (9:57) – A collection of seven scenes, none of which could have saved the film from being anything but mediocre (or worse). There’s some horribly out-of-place narration in one, which was thankfully cut from the final version, and an alternate prologue that shows a few witches being hung as opposed to cutting away to their feet. But other than that, there’s nothing of note.

Becoming the Demon (8:33) – A walkthrough of the film’s finale with Tippett Studio artists, who discuss the CG elements and design of the creature(s). They break down a few scenes, showing them in various states of completion, which is always welcome, but it’s kind of a shame Phil Tippett and his studio have resorted to working almost exclusively with CG on things like the Twilight and Beverly Hills Chihuahua series.

On a Crusade (6:08) -Feeling there wasn’t enough action and that the audience couldn’t connect with Nic Cage’s inner-turmoil, producer Alex Gartner went back to shoot a Crusade prologue. After giving a brief historical overview, Gartner – along with stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong and second unit director Vic Armstrong – talk shop about the sequences, from storyboarding to stunt work.

Alternate Ending (9:21) – The original ending, briefly discussed in the Becoming The Demon featurette, has the monks acting a little more Deadite-like and `The Girl’ does not transform. I prefer this ending, if only because the ridiculous CGI is kept to a minimum.

Film: 2/5
DVD: 2/5