As many filmgoers know, the theatrical release schedule has its own set of seasons. Late spring and early summer is blockbuster season, fall and the holidays is award magnet and family film season, and January is that void where studios dump poorly made productions with hopes of stealing a few bucks from unsuspecting ticketholders. Season of the Witch falls squarely into the latter category.
Nicolas Cage stars as Behmen, a crusading knight in the mid-14th century who suddenly realizes, after 12 years of slaughtering infidels in foreign lands, that perhaps not all of his victims deserve to die. So Behmen and his comrade Felson (Ron Perlman) abandon their army and return home. Thus begins a series of abrupt plot developments, with painfully stilted dialogue to match.
Discovered as deserters, Behmen and Felson end up in prison, but Cardinal D'Ambroise (Christopher Lee) offers them a chance to win their freedom if they escort a young woman (Claire Foy), suspected of being a witch and of transmitting the black plague, to a monastery where the last copy of the mystical Book of Solomon resides, which can help determine her innocence or guilt.
Cage delivers an adequate performance as the conflicted knight who considers himself faithful to God though not to the Church that kills in His name, but his natural accent feels a bit jarring in this medieval setting. Foy, on the other hand, impresses as the enigmatic Anna, with equal parts tenderness, vulnerability, and dark maturity. There is little else to recommend this film, which earns a PG-13 rating for violence and disturbing content.
Though the premise is slightly intriguing, and Foy helps make it so, the inane and scattershot screenplay, combined with jerky pacing, render this film palatable to only the least discriminating of viewers. 'Tis the season.
-Michael Leaser is editor of FilmGrace and an associate of The Clapham Group