It’s hard to watch the opening scene of “Season of the Witch,” and not snicker a little bit. Not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s nearly impossible to witness a witch trial and not suddenly hear Monty Python in your head. Once the film gets past this moment of unintentional comedy, things do get better, if not great, only to slip again at the end.
The cast is a bizarre collection, to say the least. Nic Cage and Ron Perlman as Behmen and Felson, a pair of AWOL Knights Templar, have both played men spit out by hell on more than one occasion. Stephen Graham is currently bashing heads as Al Capone on “Boardwalk Empire.” And two of Britain’s squirreliest actors, Stephen Campbell Moore, the interloping professor in “The History Boys,” and Robert Sheehan, who was so skin-crawlingly Gollum-esque in “The Red Riding Trilogy.” Cage is the hero, but Perlman’s the only one you feel like you can trust.
Cage and Perlman have an occasionally amusing chemistry as two men who walked away from the crusades when it occurred to them that, 'Hey, maybe Jesus doesn’t want us killing women and children.' Around the time that the plague is laying waste to the people of England, their identities as deserters are discovered. But as luck would have it, they are offered full pardons if they agree to transport a beautiful young woman believed to be the witch behind the horrible disease.
In no time the motley crew is cobbled together to navigate the terrible terrain between them and the monastery where the witch is to be tried and punished. As they wend their way, one bizarre, mystical tragedy after another befalls the troupe, forcing Behmen to halt a move to just kill the girl—he demands she receive a proper trial. Not only was Behmen a 15th-Century conscientious objector, he also took the rule of law very seriously.
“Season of the Witch” is a seriously low-budget affair that at times has you thinking you’re watching a LARPer convention. But the constraints of the budget don’t really hinder the film until the climax. Director Domenic Sena clearly scrimped and saved along the way to make his final monster look as awesome as possible, but he came up a few dollars short. Instead of crafting the film’s grandest spectacle, it’s the cheesiest.
Every now and again a film will rise above the trappings of its genre and appeal to a broader audience—for example, even non-horror/zombie could love Danny Boyle’s “28 Days”—but “Season of the Witch” is not one of those films. Cage might deliver the girl, but he doesn’t quite deliver the goods.