For the sake of transparency I shall declare my interests before beginning this review: I have an irrational love for Nicholas Cage, and will forgive him almost any cinematic sin. Not only do we share a birthday (coincidentally the film’s UK release date) but he’s done enough quality turns in films I’ve enjoyed (Wild at Heart, Raising Arizona, Con Air) to give him a pass on any number of National Treasures.
And let’s get something else out of the way too. This film has not been well-received. And with good reason. Season of the Witch is purest hokum. Set during ‘the time of the Crusades’ in a kind of identikit medieval Europe, no concession is made to mere historical fact and is probably all the better for it: this is an anti-history lesson.
The plot, as if anyone really cared, revolves around grizzled ex-crusaders Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman teaming up with a motley crew of central-casting stereotypes to transport a suspected witch to a monastery, where she will be presumably get a bloody good dunking thus ending an unpleasant plague that has ben visited on the region. Needless to say, it is quite ludicrous and the dialogue - an odd blend of hail-fellow-well-met and broad 21st century Californian - is excruciating.
The audio-visual environment just about achieves mediocrity. There is plenty of green screen and pixels fly in the (unsatisfying) battle scenes. However, any techno-wizardry pales next to the fascinating physiognomy of Perlman and Cage. Both have such extraordinary facial topography – the horse and the bear – that they dominate every scene, eclipsing both the green-screen fireworks and the (oddly drab) Mittel-European locations.
The cast list, by the way is pretty impressive beyond the weather-beaten leads. Stephen Graham (who plays this with a bewildering accent that is somewhere between gorblimey Eastender and Brooklyn Jewish) picks up his cheque, as does Ulrich ‘Festen’ Thomsen, without hurting their reputations too much. Even Christopher Lee pops up as a plague-ridden cardinal, an echo of his Hammer days.
One hopes that the critical mauling won’t adversely affect the two younger players involved. Fans of Misfits (which I haven’t seen) will recognise Robert Sheehan; I remember his promising turn as an almond-eyed rent boy in Channel 4’s brilliant Red Riding trilogy. Claire Foy channels Linda Blair fairly effectively as the titular is-she-isn’t-she witch but doesn’t show anything like the star potential she exhibited on the Beeb as Little Dorrit.
However, there is little effective chemistry between the cast. The characters themselves are shop-worn archetypes – the sanctimonious priest, the wheedling peddlar, the saintly old knight - with the exception of Cage himself who can’t decide quite what kind of hero he’s supposed to be.
In short, this is not a good film. But it’s not offensively bad either, and if you want a bit of check-your-brain-in-at-the-door escapism you could do worse. Still...