Monday, 30 January 2012

Season of the Witch (2011)

Season of the Witch is a 2011 American supernatural action film starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Dominic Sena. Cage stars with Ron Perlman as Teutonic Knights, who return from the Crusades to find their fatherland ruined by the Black Death. Two church elders accuse a girl (Claire Foy) of being a witch and being responsible for the destruction and command the knights to transport the girl to a monastery so the monks there can lift her curse from the land.

Development on the film began in 2000 when the spec script by screenwriter Bragi F. Schut was purchased by MGM. The project moved from MGM to Columbia Pictures to Relativity Media, where the film was finally produced by Charles Roven and Alex Gartner. Filming took place primarily in Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Season of the Witch was released on January 7, 2011 in the United States, Canada and several other territories. The film received negative reviews but was a moderate box office success.

The Plot

Set in the 14th century, three women accused of witchcraft are hanged by a priest. The priest performs a ritual to prevent the bodies from coming back to life. While successfully completing the ritual for the first two of the bodies, the third takes on a demonic appearance and kills the priest. Meanwhile, Teutonic Knights Behmen von Bleibruck (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) are engaged in a crusade, taking part in several different battles throughout the 1330s and eventually taking part in the Smyrniote crusades. After witnessing the massacre of civilians during the 1344 capture of Smyrna, the two knights choose to desert the Order and the crusade and return to Germany.

While traveling through Styria, they encounter the grotesque sight of people infected with the Black Death and soon discover that the Holy Roman Empire has been swept by the plague. Behmen and Felson enter the medieval town of Marburg, the German name for Maribor (once part of Styria, now in Slovenia). The two try to conceal their identity as deserters, but are revealed as knights by the crest on Behmen's sword. He and Felson are then arrested. They are taken to Cardinal D'Ambroise (Christopher Lee), who is infected with the plague. The Cardinal asks the knights to escort an alleged witch suspected of causing the plague to a remote monastery where an elite group of monks reside. These monks are capable of determining if the girl is truly a witch. If she is found guilty, the monks know a sacred ritual that can cancel her powers and stop the plague that is devastating Europe. The two knights agree under the condition that she will be given a fair trial and that the charges of desertion against them are dropped. The Cardinal agrees and they set out accompanied by a priest Debelzeq (Stephen Campbell Moore); Kay von Wollenbarth (Robert Sheehan), a young altar boy who wants to become a knight like his deceased father; Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen), a knight whose family were killed by the plague; and the well-traveled swindler Hagamar (Stephen Graham) who is serving as their guide to the monastery in return for a pardon. The witch, a young girl later identified as Anna (Claire Foy), shows hatred towards Debelzeq and forms a bond with Behmen.

Shortly after setting off, the group camp for the night. Eckhart volunteers to watch the witch for the first night. After a while, Debelzeq comes to relieve Eckhart, who decides to remain with him. He tells Debelzeq about his daughter Mila, who resembled Anna. When Eckhart gets up to leave, Anna becomes hysterical at the prospect of being left alone with the priest. She attacks him and grabs his key to the cage. She escapes and flees toward a nearby village. The search for her leads the group to a mass grave, where Eckhart has visions of his dead daughter. Running after the visions, he impales himself on Kay's sword and dies. When they recapture her, the tearful Anna explains that she only ran away for fear of Debelzeq. However the group become less trusting of Anna. The group manage to cross a rickety rope bridge, during which Anna saves Kay from falling to his death by grabbing him with one hand, showing an unnatural strength. The group enter the dark forest called Wormwood, where Hagamar attempts to kill Anna so the group can go home, only to be stopped by the others. Anna appears to summon wolves, who chase the group and kill Hagamar. An enraged Behmen tries to kill Anna, but is stopped by Debelzeq and Felson, who point out that the monastery is in sight.

Arriving at the monastery, the men find all of the monks have been killed by the plague but locate the Key of Solomon, an ancient book filled with holy rituals used to defeat evil. The men confront Anna, with Debelzeq beginning to perform a ritual used on witches. However, as Anna begins precisely recanting stories from Behmen's past, Debelzeq comes to the realization that she is not a witch, and begins frantically performing an exorcism. However, the demon that is possessing Anna reveals itself and melts the metal. The demon effortlessly fights off the knights, but when Debelzeq throws a vial of holy water on it, it flies out of sight. As the men search for the demon, they come to the realization that it isn't trying to escape, but trying to destroy the book so that nothing can stop it. When they find a room where the monks were writing copies of the book, the demon appears, destroys the copies and possesses the dead monks' bodies to use as weapons. The three men fight the possessed monks while Debelzeq continues the exorcism ritual. During the fight, the demon kills Debelzeq, then proceeds to kill Felson. Kay picks up the book and continues the ritual, while Behmen continues fighting the demon. Behmen is mortally wounded during the fight, but Kay is able to finish the ritual and the demon is obliterated, freeing Anna. Behmen asks Kay to keep Anna safe and then dies of his wounds.

Kay and Anna bury their fallen friends. Anna requests that Kay tell her about the men who saved her. They depart from the monastery with the book in hand.


Prior to Season of the Witch's release, Reuters reported that the blending of "road movie and buddy film with supernatural thriller and period drama... has critics wondering if it will be a hit or miss for an actor [Cage] who divides audiences and exasperates even his most loyal fans." When critics reviewed the film, Reuters said it won "almost universal scorn among critics". According to the Los Angeles Times, critics said that Cage was the primary reason that "this swords-and-sorcery romp is a collosal waste of time". Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 10% based on reviews from 109 critics and reports a rating average of 3.6 out of 10. It reported the overall consensus, "Slow, cheap-looking, and dull, Season of the Witch fails even as unintentional comedy." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 28 based on 27 reviews.

Associated Press movie critic Christy Lemire called Season of the Witch "a supernatural action thriller that's never actually thrilling". She wrote, "The scenery is drab, the battles are interchangeable, and no one seems particularly interested in being here. At the same time, Dominic Sena ... never flat-out goes for it in a schlocky, B-horror kind of way. What we're left with is just bloated, boring and utterly forgettable." The critic found Cage and Perlman to be poorly utilized and said of the film's progression, "It's a slog from one challenge to the next, with no real tension building, and all the while the alleged witch plays coy about whether she's actually a witch, pouting beneath her bangs, Kristen Stewart-style."
Andrew Barker of Variety said Season of the Witch was "both overblown and undercooked" and thought the film would have been more fun if it had a sense of humor. He called the film "too inert for midnight-movie schadenfreudists, and not nearly competent enough for even the most forgiving of fantasy fans". Of the film's production value, he said, "Witch's photography, costumes and production design are of good quality; editing, scoring and visual effects are most decidedly not."

Tom Huddleston of Time Out London wrote, "Despite its admirably straight face, 'Season of the Witch' is a silly romp through Pythonesque medieval cliché and knockabout Hammer horror with a dash of cut-price Tolkien chucked in to keep things moving." Huddleston criticized Cage's performance but praised Perlman's. The critic concluded, "'Season of the Witch' is not for everyone: it’s creaky, predictable and frequently idiotic. But for a tipsy Saturday night, this should tick all the right boxes."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir called the film a "Hollywood-by-Hungary" remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) with the "B-movie aesthetic" of director Roger Corman. O'Hehir wrote, "Season of the Witch is an unremitting schlockfest, full of blood and filth, bloated, purulent corpses, ghastly one-eyed witches and undead monks. If there were more such Corman-esque thrills and chills, and a whole bunch less ponderous Bergman references, we'd all be better off."

The Cast

Nicolas Cage as Behmen
 Ron Perlman as Felson
 Stephen Campbell Moore as Debelzaq
 Stephen Graham as Hagamar
 Ulrich Thomsen as Eckhart
 Claire Foy as The Girl
 Robert Sheehan as Kay
 Christopher Lee as Cardinal D'Ambroise
 Rebekah Kennedy as Peasant Turk Girl
 Andrew Hefler as Jail Bailiff
 Fernanda Dorogi as Old Woman (Givaudon)
 Kevin Rees as Dying Monk
 Matt Devere as Sergeant in Arms
 Róbert Bánlaki as Livery Boy
 Barna Illyés as Cardinal's Priest
 Kevin Killebrew as Demon (voice)

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