Fox // 2011 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 8th, 2011
Not all souls can be saved.
When Charlie Sheen had his much-publicized meltdown in early 2011, I was surprised so many people his act to outrageous. I thought he was just doing a poor-man's impression of Nicholas Cage. As if sensing the challenge to his throne of "most wacked-out actor in America," Cage went and got himself arrested in the French Quarter and had to be bailed out by Dog the Bounty Hunter. Because he lives his life like an amazing movie, it's not like being bailed out by Dog is that far off of Mike Tyson's appearance in The Hangover -- Cage can afford to pick some real stinkers to appear in when he needs the cash. Depending on your perspective, Season of the Witch could be a blessing or a curse for Cage fans. On the one hand it's far better than some of the dross he's starred in, but it's also a wasted opportunity of a film.
Two crusaders (Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman) become disillusioned with the constant grind of killing in the name of God. They desert, and on their way back home find a plague-ridden town. The locals are convinced the plague is the work of a witch, and they have a suspect (Clare Foy, Little Dorrit). However, only one monastery in the world has the Book of Solomon, a tome which contains the necessary rites to cure the witch and stop her plague. Because they're deserters (which is punishable by death), our two heroes are roped into transporting the girl to the monastery, but of course not everything is as it seems.
Here's a bad sign for a movie: if the DVD/Blu-ray has extras, and the writer, director, or stars are nowhere to be seen, something is definitely wrong. Season of the Witch has a number of deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a pair of featurettes, and aside from the stunt coordinator and some fx artists, the only name we hear from is producer Alex Gartner. That's pretty strange, and it's only after watching the extras that I pinned down what might have gone wrong.
What amazes me most about Season of the Witch is that it's not a bad film. A period horror/thriller with Nicholas Cage should be a recipe for disaster, but instead it offers decent acting, okay dialogue, and a solid visual style. The problem is that it also feels muddled and cobbled together from other films. The extras tell a bit of the story behind the film, and from them I can piece together what must have happened. The two featurettes make clear that the film was in the can, but someone wasn't happy with it. So, a prologue, featuring our two crusaders, was added to show their epic battle experiences. Then, the ending wasn't tough enough, so a visual fx team was brought in to spice things up...I won't way any more for fear of spoiling the big surprise. Without these bookends, the film would have been a fairly intimate, tight little thriller with a solid emotional twist at the end. As it is, the film isn't big enough to please fans looking for a medieval 300, nor is it likely to appeal to fans of intimate drama.
Would Season of the Witch have been a great film without the bookends? Not likely. It's still too drawn-out, with too many story elements borrowed from other films. The basic road-movie plot is tired, the whole "scary forest" motif has been done, and the plague and witch effects are slightly upscale Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn.
Despite its faults, Season of the Witch isn't a bad film, even if it's not particularly good either. This had the potential to be another sad, Uwe Boll-style medieval torture device. However, the commitment of the actors keeps the film from such a sorry fate. Even the unreliable Cage seems to give his all here, restraining his often-batty persona to give his crusader a dose of pathos. Ron Perlman is equally adept at this sort of genre exercise, and the rest of the cast is up to the task.
Visually, the film is impressive as well. Aside from a few dodgy green-screen shots, the film has a richly-textured and beautifully dark look to it. Unlike the more epic bookends, the middle of the film largely sticks to more intimate settings, preferring actors in close-ups and two shots, which make the human drama about a girl (who may or may not be a witch) that much more compelling.
This Blu-ray is also remarkably solid as well. The film didn't do too well at the box office, but no expense was spared bringing this AVC-encoded transfer to home video. Detail is high -- everything from individual links of chain mail to the smooth surface of leather looks equally impressive. For such a dark film, blacks are also impressive, deep without blocking up, and consistent throughout the film. There are occasional artifact, but overall they can't mar this excellent transfer. The DTS-HD audio track is similarly impressive. Dialogue is crisp and clear, largely in the center channel. The directional effects are well-used, especially during the opening and close fight scenes. More than the visuals, the film's sound shows the epic sweep that the film is obviously going for.
Extras include the aforementioned two featurettes, which do a quick job (six and eight minutes, respectively) while stilling providing a bit of detail. We also get a number of deleted scenes, and an alternate ending. There aren't many surprises in these scenes, but their inclusion is a nice bonus. The film's trailer is also included, as well as a Digital Copy of the film on a second disc.
Season of the Witch is in a bad place...as a mediocre film it's not going to satisfy most viewers looking for a medieval-horror romp, nor is it likely to appeal to those hoping for an absolute train-wreck. As it is, those with low expectations and a bit of tolerance for cliché might find some enjoyment, but anyone looking for a good movie will be disappointed, despite the great look of this Blu-ray disc.
Not all souls can be save, and neither can all movies -- Season of the Witch is guilty of being mediocre.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Cinema Verdict Review