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Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 12:41 pm

Witch’s spell only partially effective

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As bad Nicolas Cage movies go, and, yes, that has regrettably become a sub-genre, Season of the Witch is at the top of the heap. To be sure, this is faint praise when set aside the actor’s Bangkok Dangerous, Next and The Wicker Man, among others. Yet, with Season’s troubled history – a delayed release and scenes reshot after horrible pre-screenings – I was expecting an out-and-out disaster. Instead, I was treated to an effectively eerie thriller that only trips up during its prolonged climax.

Charged with escorting a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to a distant Abbey, AWOL Crusaders Behman and Felson (Cage and Ron Perlman) hope to get their names cleared with this act. However, with their four cohorts in tow, a noble knight (Ulrich Thomsen), an eager altar boy (Robert Sheehan), a troubled priest (Stephen Moore) and a lazy thief (Stephen Graham), their journey is plagued with mishaps and mystery. When they’re not outrunning ravenous wolves or stumbling upon plague-ravaged towns, they must contend with acts that confirm what they’ve both doubted – that the girl is in fact a witch.

The film’s first hour is a nicely taut journey into a medieval hell as director Dominic Sena does an excellent job of creating a dank atmosphere teeming with death. Overcast days are the norm, as are partially lit corridors and confined spaces. The cast is quite good as well and the story has enough thrills – check out the harrowing rope bridge sequence – and twists to satisfy a forgiving audience. However, cartoonish special effects during the climax and the use of modern language throughout prevent us from fully buying into Sena’s take on the Middle Ages. In the end, the devil’s in the details, both in the story and with this movie as it’s undone by a flimsy monster, contemporary speech and teeth that are far too white for their own good.

Contact Chuck Koplinksi at ckoplinski@usd116.org

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