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Season Of The Witch

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Nicolas Cage in Season Of The Witch
Filmed way back in 2008, directed by the guy behind the duff Gone In Sixty Seconds remake and starring Nicolas Cage accompanied by his latest straggly hairpiece. On paper, Season Of The Witch looks flimsier than the batting technique of an Australian cricketer. Yet it unexpectedly proves to be highly watchable escapist entertainment, despite paper-thin characterisation and poor plot exposition in the early stages. That’s far more than can be said of the botched blockbusters Clash Of The Titans and Prince Of Persia.

Set in 14th century Germany, the supernatural thriller features Cage and Hellboy's Ron Perlman as Behmen and Felson - two knights who return from The Crusades to find Europe ravaged by the bubonic plague. The church believes sorcery rather than infected rats to be the cause and condemns any suspected witches to death. The sword-wielding duo are soon embroiled in a mission to transport a young woman (Claire Foy) for trial at the hands of some monks, after a guilt-ridden Behmen suspects that she might be innocent. Unsurprisingly, the journey through the rough terrain and creepy forests proves to be a perilous one that leads to a CGI-heavy finale which fittingly raises the stakes for the surviving cast members.

The premise is engaging enough, although the early stages of the movie spend too long trying to ram home the buddy-buddy relationship of Behmen and Felson instead of focussing more on the witchcraft prevalent in those times. Fortunately, once the pair hit the road along with several stock characters (portrayed by acclaimed actors like Stephen Graham and Robert Sheehan) and the alleged witch, the story rattles along packed with sufficient incident to divert attention away from the more baffling aspects of the production. For example, why have the British actors (all playing Europeans) been made to speak in American accents? Could it have been to make the Yank tones of Cage and Perlman less incongruous?

The eye-catching environment also succeeds in wrestling one's thoughts away from the flaws. Filmed on location in the likes of Austria and Hungary, the treacherous terrain of the barren landscapes, dilapidated castles and foreboding forests are well brought out by the impressively earthy texture of the cinematography. Dominic Sena's direction is suitably slick in terms of pacing and flair, with one attack on the travellers by demonic wolves providing plenty of thrills. However, there is a frustrating fondness for flashbacks to remind us of the motivation of Cage's character. We should instead have been provided with a flashback to explain how Cage has somehow managed to scalp Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and glue his straggly blond locks on his head.

Away from his latest follicular folly, Cage turns in a performance that fails to test his considerable acting skills, but is reassuring simply through his presence and taking the subject matter seriously. The same applies to both Perlman and the impressive Foy, who lends her character an air of ambiguity that adds an extra dimension to proceedings. It's also a treat to see Sir Christopher Lee in a small role as a plague-infested Cardinal, with the legendary actor having lost none of his screen presence over the years.

Further analysis of Season Of The Witch is best avoided to prevent a dawning realisation that the movie doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. Nonetheless, for its 98-minute duration there are enough interesting obstacles for the protagonists to overcome, meaning that the time flies by like a witch on a broomstick. Have low expectations for this movie and you might just be surprised.


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