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Season Of The Witch

Dir: Dominic Sena. US. 2010. 95mins

A middling Middle Ages actioner, Season Of The Witch has been kicked around the release calendar since March, which would suggest a project so disastrous or incompetent that its backers wanted to bury it. In truth, this modest Nicolas Cage vehicle is merely a mediocre knights-and-witchcraft B-movie that’s somewhat cheesy, somewhat intriguing, and ultimately just not all that involving.

Draped in moody blues, blacks and greys, director Dominic Sena’s supernatural film wants to create an atmosphere of dread and death.

Relativity Media will be dumping the film into theatres this weekend, and Cage’s marquee value, although somewhat diminished of late, will draw some consumer interest. But the movie’s so-so effects and drab period setting will probably convince most people that they can wait until DVD or simply skip this Season entirely.

In the 14th century, noble knights Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) have returned from the Crusades, only to find that the European countryside has been ravaged by the Black Plague. The knights reluctantly agree to transport a young woman (Claire Foy) who’s believed to be a witch to a nearby monastery, where the monks can hopefully reverse her curse and end the Plague’s scourge.

Draped in moody blues, blacks and greys, director Dominic Sena’s supernatural film wants to create an atmosphere of dread and death as the knights lead a team to take their prisoner to her final destination, although neither Behmen nor Felson are entirely convinced she is indeed a witch. This uncertainty gives the film its best moments, as Sena (who previously teamed up with Cage for Gone In 60 Seconds) teases the audience with the possibility that the unnamed girl might not be what she seems.

Unfortunately, Bragi Schut’s screenplay incorporates several groan-worthy moments, including some forced comedic byplay between Behmen and Felson on the battlefield and an unsubtle running commentary on religious hypocrisy.

While Cage largely dials down his usual wide-eyed antics, his slightly spacey demeanour makes it just about impossible to buy him as a brooding knight who has lost faith in the Church after the barbarism of the Crusades. Thankfully, Perlman is a steady presence as his closest confidant, walking the line nicely between rugged weariness and sly self-mockery.

As the film reaches its conclusion and the secrets are revealed about the young woman and the knights’ journey to the monastery, Sena pulls out all the stops for an action-and-effects extravaganza. Sadly, the film’s limited budget reduces the appeal of the visual pyrotechnics, although Season Of The Witch’s finale is the one time when this glum endeavour becomes delightfully unhinged.

Production companies: Rogue, Atlas Entertainment

Domestic distribution: Relativity Media, www.relativitymedia.com

Producers: Charles Roven, Alex Gartner

Executive producers: Ryan Kavanaugh, Alan G. Glazer, Steve Alexander, Tom Karnowski, Tucker Tooley

Screenplay: Bragi Schut

Cinematography: Amir Mokri

Production designer: Uli Hanisch

Editors: Bob Ducsay, Mark Helfrich, Dan Zimmerman

Music: Atil Ovarsson

Website: www.seasonofthewitchmovie.com

Main cast: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Claire Foy, Stephen Graham, Ulrich Thomsen, Robert Sheehan, Christopher Lee

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