Movie review: Season of the Witch

Decent performances from Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman can't save Season of the Witch from its shocking dialogue and poor special effects.

From left, Stephen Campbell Moore, Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are charged with transporting a suspected witch to an abbey in Season of the Witch. Relativity Media, Egon Endrenyi / AP Photo
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Director: Dominic Sena

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy

What a bizarre actor Nicolas Cage is. Fifteen years ago, he won an Oscar for his superlative turn as an alcoholic, self-destructive screenwriter in Leaving Las Vegas, a performance that ushered him into the mainstream after early cult films such as Raising Arizona and Wild at Heart. Then came his action-hero phrase - a three-strike hit of The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off that elevated him to the A-list and his pay packet to $20 million (Dh73.4m) per picture.

Yet the past decade has been a positively surreal ride for Cage, marked by the occasional high (his twin screenwriters in Adaptation) and a series of increasingly regular lows. From the appalling remakes of The Wicker Man and Bangkok Dangerous to B-movie blunders such as Knowing and Next, Cage's choices have become increasingly misguided. Couple this with his acting style - so overblown, he makes Al Pacino look restrained - and his recent career has all the finesse of a dancing rhino.

That said, after Kick-Ass,Bad Lieutenant (where his collaboration with Werner Herzog was magnificently bonkers) and even The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Cage has had a decent 12 months. So Season of the Witch will come as a disappointment to fans praying for an end to his erratic on-screen antics. A nonsensical mediaeval thriller, one that feels that it's been drastically reshaped in the editing room, it belongs to the actor's ever-growing array of putrid potboilers.

Reuniting Cage with his Gone in Sixty Seconds director Dominic Sena, this odious 14th-century odyssey sees Cage and Ron Perlman play Behman and Felson, two knights entrusted to transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to a remote abbey. There, monks will perform a ritual upon her in the hope of ridding the land of the Black Plague.

Accompanying them are a posse of pals, including the Liverpool-born Stephen Graham's "spineless scoundrel" (sounding bizarrely like Woody Allen) and the rising British star Robert Sheehan as an altar boy who dreams of becoming a knight. Obstacles include poorly rendered CGI wolves and a rickety bridge, in what proves the film's only decent set-piece as our heroes try to cross it before it collapses.

The story hinges on whether Foy's character is a witch or not. And, to be fair, the actress best known for playing the lead in the 2008 BBC version of Little Dorrit gives a spirited turn, investing far more energy into her underwritten role than it merits. In truth, Cage offers one of his more understated performances, forging a decent enough double act with Perlman. And there's even a chance for Christopher Lee to ham it up for a brief cameo.

Problem is, aside from the great Halloween make-up - for just about every extra is covered in boils, warts and pustules - Season of the Witch is about as much fun as dysentery. The special effects are second-rate, the twist mundane and the dialogue shocking ("we're gonna need more holy water" is a wonderful example). All of which would be fine if the film went for camp-B movie territory, but this takes itself way too seriously. Dispiriting stuff - and another blot on the Cage copybook.