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Movie Review

When Behmen and Felson, two wayward knights on the lam, stumble into a grubby little town and find misery, fear and a stubborn case of the plague, they naturally assume that the root of it all is a witch. And they're not the only ones. The locals already have a prime suspect in mind: a pretty girl, prone to wandering about town and saying strange, indecipherable things.

The girl's got issues, if nothing else—not the least of which would be the townspeople, who quickly toss her in a dungeon until they can figure out if she's really a witch or not. But with no one to tell them that very small rocks are what they really need to use as a watery litmus test, the townspeople decide to ship the girl off to a respected monastery, where monks can perform a proper trial and carry out any needed punishment. The catch: The monastery is 400 leagues away, and if the girl is a witch (and everyone's pretty sure she is), she's bound to be poor company.

Behmen and Felson seem like ideal candidates to escort the girl to the monastery. First off, they're knights, and knights know a thing or two about facing danger. Second, since they're AWOL from the Crusades, they're in dire need of some sort of priestly pardon if they hope to avoid their own ignominious fate. And so a mutually beneficial bargain is struck—a win-win for everyone … except the girl.

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]

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Positive Elements

It's fitting, perhaps, that Season of the Witch takes place in the age of Chivalry. Most of our characters here have a noble trait or two within their personage—though some of these virtues can, at times, be weaknesses that diabolical enemies might exploit.

The accompanying knight-soldier Eckhart wants justice to be done. And in his mind that means not taking the obviously innocent girl any farther. He tells the priest, Debelzaq (also along for the journey), that she reminds him of his own daughter (killed by the plague). His stance is both merciful and moral … unless, of course, the girl is a witch.

Debelzaq, on the other hand, is pretty sure the girl is evil—making him somewhat unsympathetic early on. But he eventually becomes just as heroic as anyone on the trip, adhering to his faith and his principles all the while. He even protects this suspected witch from a comrade determined to kill her, putting himself between her and a crossbow bolt.

Kay, an altar boy/teen, tags along to prove his heroism and become a knight himself. And he vows to stay with his friends and do his duty, even if it means certain death. "A vow must be fulfilled, or it is not a vow at all," he says.

Behmen and Felson are less than ideal heroes. They've done their share of misdeeds and are far from pure of heart. But both walked away from the Crusades because of their own moral convictions. When ordered to slaughter women and children, they decided they could no longer support the cause. The girl picks up on this: "You're not like the others," she tells Behmen. "You're kind." And kindness, obviously, is a good thing—again, as long as it's not being used and exploited by someone else.

In the end, several folks show a willingness to sacrifice themselves for a common and perhaps worldwide good.

Spiritual Content

Behmen begins the film in a crisis of faith. He and Felson leave the Crusades after they're asked to kill women and children—even though leaving is, a priest tells him, an affront to the Almighty.

"You pledged your life for the cause," says a priest when Behmen makes clear his wishes.

"For God," Behmen answers. "Not for this."

Now, the post-Crusade Behmen is a man who wants faith but has precious little. And the church is doing nothing to win back. Indeed, Season of the Witch showcases two classically controversial points in church history: The Crusades and witch hunts. It suggests that not all witches, convicted and executed, were guilty.

But—and it's best to get this out of the way now—the church and its priests get this one right. Or at least mostly right. Because this girl isn't "just" a witch. She's fully possessed by a dangerous demon. Holy water burns it. Holy books hurt it. Holy incantations destroy it. It can apparently grab crucifixes and stab people with them, but for the most part it seems allergic to all that is thought of as holy.

This makes Debelzaq, in some ways, a man of heroic faith. He never loses it, even when the cadre arrives at the monastery and finds everyone dead of the plague. "It cannot be," he says. "God would not abandon us." He insists that prayer is their only refuge now, and recites the Lord's Prayer—a recitation that reveals one last monk still holding on to life.

Of course, much of the film's spirituality is often just CGI-infused Hollywood hoopla.

One important note: The reason everyone's heading to the monastery is because it houses a copy of the Key of Solomon—presented as a holy text that can protect humanity from supernatural evil. There is, in fact, a real Key of Solomon—a grimoire that isn't so much a part of Christianity as it is the occult. It's a book of magic spells allegedly written by King Solomon (though more likely authored sometime during the Renaissance) that dabbles in demonology—including spells to force demons to do the magician's bidding.

Hagamar, the party's guide, apparently sold what he describes as "genuine relics" to folks in the region and later swears "by all the saints." A doomed woman, suspected of being a witch, tells a priest that he's going to "burn in hell." A forest they must pass through is called Wormwood.

Sexual Content

We see Behmen and Felson sitting with two suggestively clad women following a bloody battle, and we hear that Felson signed up to serve in the Crusades after he learned that God would forgive adultery with a two-year pledge. "Better sign me up for 10," Felson supposedly said.

The girl accused of witchcraft is quite pretty, and she suggests at one point that Debelzaq raped her. Later, she seems to be trying to seduce Behmen when she reaches her hand through her cage, slaps on a come-hither look and says, "Allow me to ease your pain." At one point we see her lying on a floor naked. (The camera concentrates on her shoulders and legs.)

Violent Content

We follow Behmen and Felson through many chaotic Crusade battles, slashing and hacking their way through countless enemies. At first they seem to enjoy it—lustily agreeing that whomever kills the most people will "drink free" that eventide. But it gets to them after a while: "Do you get the feeling that God has too many enemies?" Felson quips. And when Behmen stabs a woman in the stomach, something breaks in his heart. He has repeated nightmares of the moment—seeing the look of surprise and horror on her face as he runs the blade through. Then, during one dream, he sees her smile and lick blood from her fingers with sick, seductive relish.

Really, the film is one extended battle sequence, loaded with just a smattering of spatter and gore but featuring a sky-high body count. Our heroes battle demonic wolves, zombified monks and, at times, each other. We see wolves bite and then later eat a man, who screams as he dies. Another man is stabbed in the gut by a friend. Still another is immolated in the clutch of demon's wings. A fourth is skewered by claws.

Three women, suspected of being witches, are hung and then drowned. Behmen and Felson fight with town guards. The demon—a frightening computer-generated creature with bat wings and a gaunt, nightmare-inducing face—attacks and makes life miserable for several survivors. We see lots of disgusting, diseased corpses (and some live folks) with faces and hands encrusted with bloated sores. One corpse is eaten by a dog. Several undead monks have their heads cut off. A demon is consumed by an internal fire.

The girl sports a number of wounds and bruises on her back. Behmen and Felson see flagellants whip their own backs, asking for God's mercy on the countryside. The priest has his hand bloodied by a rope—a wound that something causes to bleed again while he's reading a holy book. A man is pulled into a river shortly before being killed by a demonic force. The girl, possessed by massive strength, attacks her escorts several times—once stabbing one of them in the hand with a crucifix. The attacks only end when she's knocked out in some way. On one occasion she's thrown into a stone pillar.

Crude or Profane Language

One s-word. Milder profanities include "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑ed." God's name is misused at least twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Behmen and Felson drink at a tavern. Both take swigs from Felson's flask. Behmen uses the flask's contents (much to Felson's dismay) to sterilize Debelzaq's wounded hand—even though alcohol wasn't known to be a disinfectant for another several hundred years.

Other Negative Elements

Felson recalls that when they made a priest mad, it looked as if someone had urinated in his holy water. A suspected witch throws up.

Conclusion

Sometimes you can find good messages in a bad movie. And as if to prove that point, Season of the Witch offers us protagonists with strong character and active (if at times misguided) ethics. It tells us that good and evil are real, not relative, and it reminds us that just because our religious leaders are flawed, that doesn't mean our faith is. We're told once again that even though we may ourselves be flawed and fallen, we should never let those things keep us from working toward a higher calling. Sometimes, we're shown here, we can even be, through no work of our own, saved.

But do those good things push back the bad? The gross corpses? The unremitting and creepy violence? The demonic fascinations? Does it mollify the terrible dialogue and lame plot?

No monastery trial is needed to answer those questions.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Nicolas Cage as Behmen; Ron Perlman as Felson; Stephen Campbell Moore as Debelzaq; Stephen Graham as Hagamar; Ulrich Thomsen as Eckhart; Robert Sheehan as Kay; Claire Foy as The Girl

Director

Dominic Sena ( WhiteoutSwordfishGone in 60 Seconds)

Distributor

Rogue Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

January 7, 2011

On Video

June 28, 2011

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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