“In the winter of 1348 a knight of the Crusades returned to his homeland. He was tired in body and soul and hoped to live in peace the remainder of his days. But this was not to be.”
The city of Villach has a problem. The plague has spread to its borders, and the affliction is spreading fast. The disease’s arrival is timed to the arrival of a young girl (Foy) who was found to be wondering about the village. After some interrogation she confesses to being a witch and bringing the illness to the village. She must now be brought to the abbey where a holy book contains the words necessary to deal with the witch. Now they just have to get her to the abbey which is several days away from the village.
Enter Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Perlman). They are the fiercest fighters in the Holy Crusades. Battle upon battle they have proven themselves as warriors. But after one of the battles ends up against woman and children, the two begin to lose faith in the holy cause. They leave the fighting only to end up at Villach and spotted as deserters. Of course, the Cardinal D’Ambroise (Lee) is willing to forgive the transgression if the two will escort the witch along with Father Debelzag (Moore) safely to the abbey. They reluctantly agree, but only after securing a vow that she will be given a fair trial. Along the way they encounter evil upon evil, and it becomes clear that there is far more than witchcraft at work here.
One can’t escape the fact that this movie never really clicks on all of its cylinders. There is some rather nice atmosphere to be found, but director Dominic Sena appears to be wasting it by overwhelming the image with computer generated “enhancements” that take away significantly from the creepy environments we’ve come to expect from these exotic European locations. The Austrian locations might have been better without all of that help. The character portrayals here are also a bit on the weak side. Stephen Campbell Moore is lazy in the crucial role of the presiding priest. There is no inspiration to be found here, and he looks most of the time like he’s on a game show waiting to hear what he’s won. Christopher Lee’s part is merely a cameo, and his face is buried beneath tons of plague infestation makeup. He delivers his entire performance from a bed. Stephen Graham delivers some hope at first. He plays a con artist invited on the journey because he knows the mountains where they must travel. The character is intriguing at first but is poorly used and often forgotten.
Finally, we get to the performances of Cage and Perlman. Cage doesn’t quite seem to have his heart in the role, but that’s often an intentional choice with the quirky actor. So we don’t really know if he was bored or figured his character’s disillusionment warrants the choice. Still, he actually has some nice chemistry with Ron Perlman, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the two together again in something with a little more character life. Perlman, at least, appears to be having a good time and gets all of the witty lines. It’s a shame how effortless it all looks to the actor.
Season of the Witch is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35-40 mbps. The image is extremely cold most of the time. There is an intense blue tint that dominates the image. That means colors are mostly desaturated and do little to stand out. The image is certainly sharp. When the rare daylight scene is shown the true high-definition image presentation comes to life. Most of these occur in the beginning as we follow Cage and Perlman through many of their crusader battles. Black levels are actually quite good, providing some fine shadow definition. That is not quite so true during the computer-generated climax. Shadow definition suffers, and it’s hard to follow these final crucial moments.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is alive with aggressive sounds and superior sub response. There are plenty of sounds to literally go around. The score has some rousing moments, and there are fine creepy effects mixed into the surrounds for good measure. Dialog is clear, for the most part. Cage speaks quite softly at times, however, and these moments tend to get muddled.
Deleted Scenes: (9:56) HD There are 7 with a play all option.
Becoming The Demon: (8:29) HD The f/x crew take us on a tour of the demon transformation. You get conceptual art and the evolution of the scene. There are huge spoilers to be found here.
On A Crusade: (6:07) HD A closer look at the Crusade battles.
Alternate Ending: (9:20) HD This is the superior climax without the CG demon.
One gets the impression that Sena attempts to do too much here. What starts as a simple witchcraft film ends up turning into a demonic climax that is far too much sub-par computer-generated imagery and far too little of the character potential that the film has set up. In the extras I was surprised to learn that the climax was filmed without the computer demon. I think it would have been a wiser and potentially cheaper choice of retaining that version of the movie. Instead Sena reaches too far and too often. The result is a muddy movie that can’t really find a solid audience as its dismal box office numbers prove. You might want to avoid this one…well… like the plague. “I swear by all the saints, may they strike me dead if I were to lie.”