Witches, crusaders and knights – the set-up seemed impeccable as Nicholas Cage returns to the screen in another action thriller, this time with Ron Perlman as his sidekick. Working again with Dominic Sena, director of Gone in 60 Seconds, Cage attempts a convincing role as a fourteenth century action hero in Season of the Witch.
The story itself is not bad. Two knights, renowned for their strength and skill, abandon the crusade as they are struck with doubt in the religious warfare they conduct. Concealing their true identities, they travel the country and reach a city where the plague has hit hard. As a request from the king, and in order to save their lives after having been discovered as deserters, they embark upon a mission: to transport a suspected witch to a monastery. There monks will hold a trial and deduce whether she is responsible for the Black Plague or not. In other words: a simple plotline with ample opportunity for thrilling events.
Unfortunately, the film relies mostly on the element of surprise and leans heavily on cliché with, for example the crossing of an old rope bridge over a ravine, barely holding for the first man to cross, then miraculously taking the weight of a carriage and falling apart the second they reach the other side. The one question that keeps the story interesting is the one of the girl they are transporting. On one hand, she seems to be the innocent victim of a vicious and irrational witch hunt sweeping over the country at the time; on the other, her influence over the men and sly smiles indicate towards something quite different. Claire Foy definitely does the part justice and her performance outshines that of Cage.
Season of the Witch is at times comical, and the interplay between Cage and Pearlman sometimes succeeds in its colloquial, humorous objectives, although it most often appears strained and somewhat artificial. Instead, the most successful humour of the film is brought out unintentionally. Towards the end, the supernatural creature steps up to Cage in the midst of the great battle and has a heart-to-heart with him: ‘Do you have any idea how this book has tortured me for centuries?’ I was waiting for Cage to adjust his glasses (although he was wearing none) and reply with something along the lines of ‘And how does that make you feel?’
Not a complete waste of time, and with some unexpected twists and turns in the story, Season of the Witch is worth watching if you are a Cage fan, although it is not his best performance to date, or if you are generally into the whole crusade and/or witch business. You’ll get a few laughs from it, and probably a couple of instances where palm will meet forehead in disbelief of how badly a script can be written.
Rating: 2½ / 5