Monday, October 09, 2017

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #3: Season of the Witch

Heard the one about the two Knights Templar (nope, not the Armando de Ossorio version, though stick around for the Winter of Discontent and I’ll see what I can do) who happily battle their way side by side through a decade’s worth of holy wars only to get upset when innocent women and children die in the Lord’s name, down tools in protest and walk off the job?

No? Oh, it’s hilarious. It goes like this:

There’s these two knights, The Moody Self-Righteous One (Nicolas Cage) and The One Who’s Only In It For The Booze And The Whores (Ron Perlman) and they fuck off the job and go for an epic wander along the shores of Styria (an entirely landlocked country: told you it was hilarious) and fetch up in a small town where they’re recognised, arrested and given the opportunity to redeem their contractual transgression with the church by transporting a witch (Claire Foy) to a monastery because she might hold the key to the plague that’s ravaging the land.

Maybe the script offers a rationale for the above. I’ll be honest: my attention wandered a little while I was watching ‘Season of the Witch’. That’s “wandered” as in I checked my emails, posted something on Facebook, flicked through a volume or poetry, and philosophically contemplated the silent encroachment of rust on the bottom of the living room radiator.

I’ll be even more honest: there were three set pieces that drew my eyes back to the screen – the montage of battles that see our heroes become increasingly disaffected with the knightly life; a vertiginous rope-bridge crossing that plays like ‘Wages of Fear’ by way of ‘Steptoe and Son’; and an extended smack-down with a legion of zombie monks (yes, you read that correctly) – and beyond that it was down to whether Claire Foy was onscreen or not.

To say that Foy is the best thing about the film is a backhanded compliment, since it’s not exactly bristling with good things. Yeah, the double-act between Cage and Perlman is better than any of us had any right to expect, and at least we get a moderately subdued Cage performance here and none of the scenery-munching histrionics of ‘Ghost Rider’ or the execrable ‘Wicker Man’ remake. And yeah, the production design is okay, and the running time – a shade over an hour and a half – means that ‘Season of the Witch’ doesn’t outstay its welcome too egregiously. But none of these things actually constitute grounds for recommendation.

Claire Foy’s performance does. As the witch who might not be a witch – who might, in fact, be something worse – her characterisation weaves sinuously between coquettish, mocking, omniscient, na├»ve and demonic. She’s magnetic and unpredictable, creating a genuinely effective antagonist.

There’s no punchline to this review, by the way. This is a film directed by Dominic Sena which was subject to reshoots by Brett fucking Ratner. It would be wicked to mock the afflicted.

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