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Witch with the heart of darkness

 | January 15, 2011

Throw in a sorceress, a fugitive knight and the Black Plague and you get a potent brew for your entertainment.


(Season of the Witch) Of late, Nicolas Cage has been acting in a number of films involving supernatural beings, occult and magic. The last three were Ghost Rider, Knowing and Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

His reason for taking a shine to this kind of movies could be his early interest in comics and superheroes. Nevertheless, Cage has a persona that sits rather well with matters that are out of this world.

In Season of the Witch, Cage is Behmen, a 14th century fugitive knight from the Crusaders. Behmen and his close friend Felson (Ron Perlman) have had enough of the senseless killings that went on for years in the name of the church and God.

The last straw is when Behmen unintentionally kills a woman during an attack on a castle. He and Felson sheath their swords and head for home.

When they are back on home soil, they discover that death has carved a deadly trail across the land. The church doesn’t know what to do with the Black Plague. Its desperate attempts to seek a divine solution have come to naught.

A young woman accused of being a witch is caught. The church believes she is responsible for casting the curse on mankind and she holds the key to ending the plague.

But she must be sent to a faraway abbey to be tried by monks who are familiar with the ritual of breaking the witch’s spell. Behmen and Felson land in the dungeon after being identified as runaway knights.

Both men are persuaded to escort the witch to the abbey in exchange for a pardon of their crime. Joining the two knights on the perilous journey are a priest, a travelling salesman, an altar boy and a veteran knight whose wife and daughter have died in the plague.

Deadly happenings

The story is not convoluted although strange and deadly happenings occur at regular intervals as the group makes its way through a dark forest, foggy surroundings and mountain tops.

Claire Foy acts as the pretty young girl accused of being a witch. Her occasional bouts of extraordinary strength make everyone suspicious and afraid.

The climax comes 30 minutes before the end when literally all hell breaks loose. Entertainment value could have been exemplary if the chain of events is much smoother.

Director Dominic Sena falters with regard to the erratic spooky scenes that fail to generate an escalating tension into a crescendo in the dying minutes of the show. Perhaps it was the fault of the film editor.

Without spoiling everyone’s fun, it is sufficient to say that the witch is more than just an ordinary girl. There are lots of hysterical Latin incantations engineered to lend authenticity to the story.

However, viewers would have a hard time telling if those are genuine verses or just some mumbo-jumbo phonetics.

The religious factor in Season of the Witch hardly provokes rational thinking. Overall, the frightened priests and other clergy members come across as inconsequential figures.

In reality, the Black Death of the 14th century which claimed more than 100 million lives in Europe over half a millennium shook the church to its core.

Bubonic plague

The deadly effects of the bubonic plague that changed the history of Europe have been distilled by Hollywood into this crucible of a plot, using the young witch as an excuse to spin a fantastical yarn.

Perlman, of the TV series Beauty and the Beast (1987), comes close to stealing the thunder from Cage. With his scruffy looks and Viking demeanour, Perlman was a delight to watch.

Season of the Witch had a troubled beginning since it started shooting in November 2008. It was supposed to be released early last year but due to unforeseen circumstances, the movie was put in cold storage.

Later additional scenes were shot and the entire footage underwent lengthy scrutiny in the editing room. It was only deemed fit for public consumption towards the end of last year and released a week ago.

The quality of the film is sporadic at best, with intermittent failures in lucidity and continuity. Overall, Season of the Witch comes across as a dark movie minus an almighty punch. It has neither the finesse nor the exuberance of an award-winning show.

But Cage’s deep and pondering looks did go some way in making this a slightly convivial outing at the cinema.


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