Both overblown and undercooked, “Season of the Witch” is a fine example of a film that would’ve been great fun if only its creators had a sense of humor about the wild brew of absurdity they had percolating. Up until a howler of a third act, this supernatural period-actioner is too inert for midnight-movie schadenfreudists, and not nearly competent enough for even the most forgiving of fantasy fans. Lack of much new competition could provide a modest opening weekend, but there’s not enough witchcraft in the world to keep this one afloat for long.
If nothing else, one must applaud the moxie of the 14th century-set film’s historical revisionism: Not only do onscreen titles place famous Crusades sieges like the Battle of Artah more than two centuries after they actually took place, but director Dominic Sena may have also made the first film about medieval witch trials to side solidly with the priests who condemned peasant girls to death.
A tired-looking Nicolas Cage and a game Ron Perlman star as Crusader buddies Behmen and Felson — first seen in a lightning-fast succession of poorly CGI’ed Holy Land battles, later to desert in disgust after Behmen accidentally kills a bystander. Quickly captured in a nearby plague-ravaged village, they’re enlisted by a dying cardinal (Christopher Lee, unrecognizable under pounds of prosthetic buboes) to lead a ragtag party escorting a waifish young girl (Claire Foy) suspected of dark arts to a remote monastery, where her trial and exorcism will hopefully end the plague.
Strange goings-on and conflicts necessarily arise along the way — with a wolf attack showcasing some very dodgy prop work — as the accused witch reveals herself to be quite clearly guilty as charged. Decent mileage is wrung from a nicely paced crossing over a rickety wooden bridge, which adds almost nothing to the plot but actually delivers a good hit of tension. Otherwise, the journey is a swollen slog, leaving the film DOA until the final third, with a final battle sequence that echoes “Army of Darkness” in everything but the wink and nudge.
Anachronistic dialogue and strange accent choices are something of a given in midrange fantasy films, but “Season of the Witch” nonetheless manages to distinguish itself in this regard. At times Perlman and Cage affect stagy Britishisms, while at others they spew such phrases as “They must’ve jumped the fence” like proper Americans; and bonafide Brit Stephen Graham’s character is inexplicably given to lapse into the patois of an old-timey Brooklyn newsboy.
Lensed in some beautiful locations across Austria and Hungary, “Witch’s” photography, costumes and production design are of good quality; editing, scoring and visual effects are most decidedly not.