It is hard to say when it becomes obvious that Season of the Witch is going to be ridiculous almost past the point of humor. Perhaps it is when we see the first clumsy, badly rendered special effect, or when we are confusingly told the story is set in “The Age of the Crusades”. Or is it when we first lay eyes on the sad bit of carpet that passes for Nicolas Cage’s wig? For the sake of argument, we can disregard the fact that the First Crusade began in 1095 and the Ninth ended in 1272, so the late 14th century hardly qualifies as “The Age of the Crusades”. This is a period/fantasy/action film about witches, so we’re not meant to notice that its level of historical accuracy makes Kingdom of Heaven look like a textbook. Let us also close our eyes on the blatant Halloween-Crusader Templar outfits worn by the noble Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), who do not happen to be Templar Knights.
It is nonetheless quite curious that a mature medieval knight like Behmen, who has spent years fighting in the crusades would suddenly have a spontaneous epiphany about the impropriety of killing defenceless women and children. Suddenly disillusioned, more to further the plot than to develop their characters, Behmen and Felson desert the Crusading army (which army, one may ask? We are given a date, but never any geographic background), only to end up getting caught on their way home. We are never told who precisely has the authority to stop the escaping knights outside of the crusaders’ camp, and what sort of medieval email service was used to disseminate their fugitive status with such speed.
However that may be, they are offered a chance to redeem themselves by accompanying a young witch (Claire Foy) suspected of causing the Black Plague to a distant monastery for judgement. They are joined by a group of unlikely comrades, including the dodgy-looking monk Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), grieving knight Eckhardt (Ulrich Thomsen), swindler/guide Hagamar (Stephen Graham) and Kay (Robert Sheehan), the obligatory wide-eyed young man with Principles and Ideals.
The journey is of course long and perilous, peppered with dark secrets, betrayals, and revelations. It would probably help if the dialogue weren’t so cheaply modernised, or if it had been done so with comic intent. The ridiculously obvious American accents don’t help much either and Nicolas Cage is less convincing as a medieval knight than the entire cast of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It is impossible to shake the feeling that he is an overgrown middle-school student at an unusually violent Halloween party.
The costumes and makeup in general are very oddly put together and hilariously inconsistent. Although we are never told that Stephen Campbell Moore’s priest is actually a Franciscan monk, he sure looks like one, and you can count the number of takes in any given scene just by the fluctuations in the positioning of his periodically vanishing tonsure.
Claire Foy does her best to seem promiscuous, devious, and generally demonic, but only succeeds in passing for Little Dorrit high on magic mushrooms. Her transformation into a fiery demon makes one think wistfully of the stop-motion effects of Ray Harryhausen. At least Harryhausen put some effort into his character design and animation. It is also an interesting decision to cast Christopher Lee in a role with about 5 seconds of dialogue, with his face obscured by sloppy rubber prosthetics. Perhaps he didn’t want anyone to see him blush.
Season of the Witch is amusing in all the wrong ways. It would have been delightfully ridiculous if only it was meant as a comedy. The sight of Nicolas Cage in full Templar outfit, cursing in solid American slang is priceless. On every level, it is the ultimate example of how not to make a film, and perhaps it deserves to be seen just for that.