Monday, March 19, 2012


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, metaphysical*

SEASON OF THE WITCH has one strike against it as soon as one reads its title.  A modern-era Donovan song simply doesn't convey much about the content about an adventure involving 14th-century knights and their quest to deliver an allegedly possessed girl to a secluded abbey for de-demonizing.

Direction by Dominique Sena is no better or worse than his SWORDFISH or his previous film with star Nicholas Cage, GONE IN 60 SECONDS.  The central problem is Bragi Schut's script, which tries to posit the travails of two knights, Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), as they try to deal with the way their faithful services have been abused by a domineering church.  Behmen is sincerely sick of war, and encourages Felson to desert the Crusades, but this brings them into conflict with their own people.  As it happens the Church needs a couple of good men to risk their lives in a special mission.  They suspect that a nameless girl (Clair Foy) has been possessed by a demon, but the only way to exorcise her is to transport her to a particular abbey, where a sacred book contains the needed spell of exorcism.

The script includes some potentially strong elements, but fails to exploit them to their utmost.  Cage's Behmen sometimes conveys strong conflict between his desire to serve the abstract good of his church, and his realization that the church uses the military for ignominous goals-- particularly in the torturing and execution of women accused of witchcraft.  His partner Felson is more cynical, but follows Behmen's lead out of loyalty.  However, both men tacitly believe that there are such things as witches and demons whom the church must oppose, and the film essentially endorses this point of view by making it clear, in an introductory sequence, that demons are a real presence in this world.

Schut and Sena might have realized more dramatic tension without this sequence.  Had viewers seen only the grueling wagon-ride to the abbey, they would have been obliged to make up their own minds: is the girl prisoner really possessed, or is she the victim of primitive superstition?  In the concluding scenes the filmmakers somewhat manage to have their cake and eat it too, but the sociological motifs of the film-- arguing the mistreatment of women in European medieval society-- seem at odds with the sloppy metaphysics.  The demon-- and yes, there is one-- has insinuated himself into this trek in order to destroy the sacred book, thus arguing that the Christian Church has the straight goods on how to destroy demons, if not the right to persecute every woman who croons over a cookpot. 

A more skillful film than SEASON might have been able to combine the critique of "inner horror"-- the evil that men do-- with "outer horror," a more abstract form of evil not confined to human beings.  But all one can say of this film is that there are some good battles and decent CGI.  The rest is wasted potential.

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