While men have never actually been condemned for being men, there’s a long history of the condemnation of conspicuous women for being females, stretching all the way from Eve to, political leanings aside, Sarah Palin or Hilary Clinton today. And the medieval supernatural action thriller Season Of The Witch, while wanting it both ways as it veers between viewing women as both victims and occult villains, doesn’t help matters either.
In other words, beyond all the fantasy meanderings on the screen, is a real history of at least nine million mostly women being slaughtered from the Middle Ages on, for the crime of witchcraft. And among those fingered as retro-terrorists in league with the devil as opposed to Al-Qaeda, were females who happened to be a little too old, sickly, rebellious or just different.
And Season Of The Witch begins by addressing that history impressively enough, as a massive witch roundup takes place in Central Europe, in reaction to the rapidly spreading Black Plague. And pinning the deadly contagion on women accused of conspiring with the devil, church leaders order the unfortunate countless females to be hanged or tossed off bridges to drown.
But lest the blockbuster proceedings be mistaken for a glum docudrama, enter Nicolas Cage as battle weary, grouchy knight Behmen, accompanied by loyal rowdy sidekick Felson (Ron Perlman). A couple of AWOL warriors, the pair have skipped out on the Crusades because, it seems, there’s nothing wrong with slaughtering men, but taking down women and children too is a bit much for their temperaments.
So after going off in a huff from yonder holy battles on behalf of the Church, the medieval pacifists sneak into a village for a little incidental R&R, where their cover is promptly blown and they’re imprisoned by the Church. And in an apparently unisex dungeon, which they find themselves sharing with The Girl (Claire Foy), a Dark Ages femme fatale temptress recently pegged as a witch for precipitating the Plague locally. But presenting them with an offer they can hardly refuse, the church elders will grant the knights freedom if they agree to transport The Girl to a monastery, where her soul can be ritualistically cleansed of the devil.
In this just kidding, too weird for kids occult scenario, Dominic Sena, director of Swordfish and Whiteout, wants to revel in the black arts this time around. And rescue his damsel in distress witch and burn it too.
But true believers in this hokey yarn may be hard to come by, as those hapless heroes packing holy water contend with hide and seek satanic possession and ostentatious, over the top sexy exorcism. While walking a dubious fine line between rescuing witches from a devil-made-me-do-it bad rap, and decking their inner demons.
Or, as Virginia Woolf once noted in her extended essay, In A Room Of One’s Own, and with a far more serious tone:
“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to.”
2 [out of 4] stars