Nic Cage brings an element of deadpan to even his serious roles. At best this works with material that embraces his ironic style. Bad Lieutenant, for instance, had Herzog utilising the actor to his full potential, while Neil LaBute’s woefully misjudged stab at The Wicker Man didn’t. Fortunately, Season of the Witch doesn’t try to take itself too seriously.
Cage plays 14th century holy crusader Behmen, who begins to question his slaying in the name of God, but not before playing his part in conquering many other lands and slaying their armies, as shown in the opening scenes. After one attack on a village leaves a number of innocents dead, Behmen’s conscience finally surfaces, and along with his trusty battle companion Felson (Ron Perlman), he abandons the Order. On arriving home they find their land ravaged by plague — the disease blamed on witchcraft by the holy men. Imprisoned as traitors, they are offered a final mission by the cardinal (Christopher Lee, barely recognisable in plague-infested make-up) in exchange for their lives, to deliver a captive witch (Claire Foy) to a remote monastery, something the holy men believe will rid the land of pestilence.
Dominic Sena, director of Kalifornia and the forgettable Whiteout, keeps proceedings light-hearted, while exploring themes seen in Christopher Smith’s excellent Black Death. The majority of the film follows the expectedly arduous journey, as the caged girl throws all manner of trickery at her escorts via a number of ramshackle set-pieces, including demonic wolves and rickety bridges complete with slowly fraying rope. Cage is his usual deadpan self as the concerned knight with a new-found heart, Perlman offers the comic relief, while the rest of the entourage — the guide, the priest and the young rookie knight — fill their respective roles acceptably. And, Foy’s performance is highly compelling, flitting between cruel and innocent in a blink of an eye.
But, most of the action is lacking, bland through predictable familiarity and regurgitated one-liners. The CGI-laden climax is a hodgepodge of better films, with echoes of Army of Darkness as skeleton faced creatures scale walls at the inevitable showdown. It’s B-movie fluff at best, dull at worst, and unfortunately not a patch on the films it tries to emulate. But, at least it has its comedy head-on — after all, it’s got Nic Cage in it.
Season of the Witch is available on DVD and Blu-ray now