Some movies dare you to like them. Movies starring Nic Cage wearing an outrageous wig fall into that category. Along with films about planes with snakes on them. I did not intend to see Season of the Witch this week but for some reason – aka a dare – I ended up in a priority seat on Sunday afternoon alongside Rob who once talked me into seeing Eclipse. Not a cinematic highlight of 2010. Unexpectedly, however, Season of the Witch had something going for it – actually three things: Nic Cage, Ron Perlman and the best plague boils I’ve seen in a film.
Season of the Witch is set at the time of the Black Death in the 14th century. Two crusading knights (Cage and Perlman) suddenly realise that massacring men, women and children by the citadel full might not be part of God’s plan after all. Admittedly it takes rather a lot of senseless slaughter before the knights reach their epiphany. They run away and try to head home, encountering plague in all its loathsomeness and horror wherever they go. Finally, they reach a stronghold in which Christopher Lee, a cardinal, festers with some truly remarkable boils and reveals that the plague is the work of a witch. The knights will have their sins forgiven if they escort the witch to a monastery 6 days away where she will receive absolutely not a fair trial.
And so off they go – the girl in a cart escorted by the knights, a monk, an altar boy (kind of), a swindler and another knight who has lost his family to the plague. Forests, rickety bridges, deserted villages, spooky behaviour from the young witch suspect, and wild animals torment the travellers on their way. You just know there’s going to be trouble.
Nic Cage and Ron Perlman clearly had a great time filming this movie. They throw themselves into the roles, relishing the kind of lines that you might expect from a schoolplay. A few ‘forsooths’ would not have gone amiss. There are moments that will make you laugh, sometimes perhaps unintentionally, but your fun will not be the less because of that.
The costumes and scenery are suitably dark and dirty, the special effects and makeup are enjoyably disgusting, and the action speeds along, albeit to a slightly inevitable conclusion. Cage and Perlman are both very likeable and they are certainly determined. Robert Sheehan as the young knight pretender and Claire Foy as the suspected witch do well with the material and are an effective counterfoil to the cynical and detached Cage and Perlman knights.
I scare easily but there was only one moment when I did (rather embarrassingly) squeal and so I’m not sure how well Season of the Witch works as a horror movie. But as a medieval romp with demons, mad priests, witches, diseased monks, dark forests and knights, it really works rather well. Not every movie is destined to be given awards and accolades – there is room for simple and fun entertainment too. Although this obviously didn’t work out with Eclipse…
And I do find it very difficult to dislike Nicolas Cage.