JANUARY 7, 2011
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
The worst kind of Nicolas Cage movie is luckily the rarest: the boring kind. While he’s certainly starred in a number of bad movies over the years (just like everyone else in the world, yet he gets mocked for it more often for some reason), at least Cage himself can usually be relied on to entertain you until the end, saving even his worst movies (8MM) from total worthlessness. However, he chose to play his character in Season Of The Witch totally straight/serious, which is a huge problem – this movie needed all the levity in the world. I can almost picture one of the film’s producers coming on set and seeing Cage saying his lines normally and freaking out; “NO! We need Wicker Man/Face-Off style Cage, not Bangkok Dangerous/Captain Corelli-style Cage! Work with me here!”
Because, apart from a few of Ron Perlman’s lines (Perlman, incidentally, seems to be the only one having any fun), this movie is just too damn serious, telling its rather bland tale of some guys transporting a suspected witch to trial as if anyone in the audience was there for a dramatic take on the story. Hell, they even introduce a guy as comic relief and then he barely speaks again for the rest of the film (at one point I thought I had missed his death because he’s completely absent from the first big scare scene on their journey). Cage only raises his voice once or twice; even his hairpiece isn’t as funny as his last couple of efforts.
Worse, there’s almost zero action (I guess January is the new go to month for religious-tinged supernatural tales where the characters never shut up), which could have made up for Cage’s ill-timed decision to tone it down. There’s a fun battle at the very end, and I enjoyed the impromptu sword/arrow fight early on between Cage/Perlman and some soldiers that want to arrest them, but otherwise it’s just an endless series of shots of our guys walking around, or sitting around, while the suspected witch (the very lovely Claire Foy, the only thing keeping my attention after a while) tries to get a rise out of them or play them against each other. All of the other action scenes are far too brief and repetitive (and so dark I can’t even tell who was who, particularly in the wolf attack). And this is AFTER reshoots that added more action to the film (a series of brief battle scenes at the very beginning of the film that more or less rip off the opening of Wolverine, but in a far less impressive way); I can’t imagine how dull it must have been before the additional footage was added.
It also feels very cheap, not to mention cramped. Dominic Sena has always shot his films at 2.35:1 (even Kalifornia, which was basically about four people driving around), but he went with 1.85 here, which baffles me. A medieval adventure movie should look epic, no? Instead everything is tight, with the framing allowing us to see the actors and the immediate area around them and nothing else. It’s also a strangely unpopulated world; everywhere Cage and co. go, the occupants are dead, and even the occasional town scene (like the aforementioned soldier fight) seems like they forgot to hire extras.
Not helping matters is the frequent déjà vu I experienced. Everything from King Arthur to Army of Darkness to The 13th Warrior came to mind more than once, and the film as a whole is similar to the recent Black Death, which was probably shot after this (Witch has been on the shelf for a while), but was also better. Apparently this was a hot spec script back in the day, but nothing in the film suggests why that was so – I can only assume that there were budgetary restrictions or something that caused a lot of rewriting (not to mention its unusually cheap feel). The basic story is fine – but all of the specifics are uninspired.
Anything good? Well again, Foy is quite fetching, and I enjoyed a few of her mind game scenes. Also, Cage and Perlman have good chemistry, though most of their camaraderie is limited to the first act of the film. I also liked that Cage was the first to cross a potentially dangerous rope bridge – we knew he’d make it across, but not so much the rest of the guys, so it gets the obvious out the way and then allows the scene to be suspenseful (though it goes on too long). And I enjoyed Ulrich Thomsen’s brief role as Eckhart, so of course he was the first one to get killed. Christopher Lee’s cameo was also a highlight, thanks to his disgusting plague makeup (he’s barely recognizable) and my imagining of the thick tension in the room when Wicker Man stars collide. You know Lee wanted to be like “What the fuck was with the bear suit, man?”
Oh well. I didn’t expect a good movie, and it wasn’t WORSE than I assumed, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. January has long been the dumping ground for lousy horror movies, and while they occasionally manage to become big hits (White Noise), most of them are movies like this – forgettable write-offs that will air on USA or TBS in the middle of the night and momentarily entertain drunks. If you want a good Cage horror movie, watch Vampire’s Kiss. If you want batshit nonsense, watch Wicker Man. This one just doesn’t have any appeal, ironic or not.
What say you?