Season of the Witch (2011 film)
|Season of the Witch|
|Directed by||Dominic Sena|
|Written by||Bragi F. Schut|
|Produced by||Alex Gartner|
Stephen Campbell Moore
|Edited by||Mark Helfrich|
|Music by||Atli Örvarsson|
|Distributed by||Relativity Media|
|95 minutes |
|Box office||$91.6 million|
Season of the Witch is a 2011 American supernatural action-adventure film starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, and directed by Dominic Sena. Cage and Perlman star as Teutonic Knights who return from the Crusades to find their homeland ruined by the Black Death. Two church elders accuse a girl (Claire Foy) of being a witch responsible for the destruction; they command the two knights to transport the girl to a monastery so the monks can lift her curse from the land. It reunited Sena and Cage, who had previously worked together on Gone in 60 Seconds.
Development on the film began in 2000 when the spec script by screenwriter Bragi F. Schut was purchased by MGM. The project moved from MGM to Columbia Pictures to Relativity Media, where the film was finally produced by Charles Roven and Alex Gartner. Filming took place primarily in Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. Season of the Witch was released on January 7, 2011, in the United States, Canada, and several other territories.
In Villach in the 13th century, three women are accused of witchcraft by a priest. The first, a young woman, confesses in an attempt to earn mercy. The second claims she made ointments for profit but not potions. The third, a hag with a blind eye, doesn't deny the charge and curses the priest. He orders all three hanged and drowned. That done, he urges the guards to pull them back up for a ritual to make sure the so-called witches never come back to life. The guards refuse, claiming the women are dead enough. The priest returns late at night to retrieve the corpses and perform the ritual from the Book of Solomon. The first corpse, that of the young girl, shows no sign of life upon reading of the rites. The hag's body vomits and twitches violently, but then goes still when the rites are completed. The third corpse, the one of the woman who had claimed to be an ointment maker, takes on a demonic appearance, sets the Book on fire, and kills the priest by hanging.
In the 14th century, German Teutonic Knights Sir Behmen von Bleibruck (Cage) and Sir Felson (Perlman) are engaged on a crusade, taking part in battles throughout the 1330s (1332 Gulf of Edremit, 1334 Siege of Tripoli, 1337 Imbros and 1339 Artah) and eventually in the Smyrniote crusades. After witnessing the massacre of civilians during the 1344 capture of Smyrna, the two knights desert the Order and the crusade and return to Austria.
While traveling through Styria, Behmen and Felson encounter the grotesque sight of people infected with the Black Death and discover that the Holy Roman Empire has been swept by the plague. They enter an unnamed town, trying to conceal their identity as deserters but are revealed as knights by the crest on Behmen's sword. They are arrested and taken to Cardinal D'Ambroise (Christopher Lee), who is infected with the plague. The Cardinal asks the knights to escort an alleged witch suspected of causing the plague to a remote monastery, where an elite group of monks reside. These monks can determine if the girl is truly a witch and if she is found guilty, know a sacred ritual to cancel her powers and stop the plague that is devastating Europe. The two knights agree under the condition she be given a fair trial and that the charges of desertion against them be dropped. The Cardinal agrees and they set out accompanied by a priest, Debelzaq; a young altar boy, Kay von Wollenbarth, who wants to become a knight like his deceased father; a knight, Sir Johann Eckhardt, whose family was killed by the plague; and the well-traveled swindler Hagamar, who will serve as their guide to the monastery in return for a pardon. The witch, a young girl later identified as Anna from Marburg, shows hatred towards Debelzaq and forms a bond with Behmen.
Shortly after setting off, the group camp for the night and Johann decides to take first watch. When Debelzaq comes to relieve him of the watch, Johann says how much she reminds him of his dead daughter, then goes on to speak of the politics of her trial and how the Church cannot have her not be guilty. Johann decides to give up the mission and goes to convince the others to do the same, leaving Anna alone with Debelzaq. Anna becomes hysterical at the prospect of being left alone with Debelzaq. She attacks him and grabs his key to the cage, then escapes, fleeing toward a nearby village. The search for her leads the group to a mass grave, where Johann has visions of his dead daughter. Chasing the visions, he impales himself on Kay's sword and dies. When they recapture her, the tearful Anna explains that she only ran away for fear of Debelzaq but the group gradually becomes less trusting of her. They cross a rickety rope bridge, where Anna saves Kay from falling to his death by grabbing him with one hand, showing unnatural strength. The group enters the dark forest called Wormwood, where Hagamar attempts to kill Anna so that the group can go home, only to be stopped by the others. Anna appears to summon monstrous wolves, which chase the group and kill Hagamar. An enraged Behmen tries to kill Anna but is stopped by Debelzaq and Felson, who point out that the monastery is in sight.
At the monastery, the men find that all the monks have been killed by the plague but locate the Key of Solomon, an ancient book filled with holy rituals used to defeat evil. The men confront Anna and Debelzaq begins to perform a ritual used on witches. As Anna begins precisely recounting Behmen's past actions during the Crusades, Debelzaq realizes that she is not a witch, rather she has been possessed by a demon - he begins frantically performing an exorcism. The demon that is possessing Anna reveals himself and melts the metal of the cage. He fights off the knights effortlessly but when Debelzaq throws a vial of holy water on him, the demon flies out of sight. As the men search for the demon, they realize he is not trying to escape but to destroy the book so that nothing can stop his powers. They find a room where the monks were writing copies of the book, where the demon destroys the copies and possesses the dead monks' bodies to use as weapons. The three men fight the possessed monks while Debelzaq continues the exorcism ritual. During the fight, Demon/Anna breaks Debelzaq's neck, then kills Felson. Kay gathers the book and continues the ritual, while Behmen continues fighting Demon/Anna. Behmen is mortally wounded during the fight but Kay is able to finish the ritual and the demon is expelled from Anna's body, freeing her. After the demon’s defeat, Behmen asks Kay to keep Anna safe before dying. Their fallen friends have been buried and Anna asks Kay to tell her about the men who saved her, so they depart from the monastery with the book.
- Nicolas Cage as Behmen von Bleibruck
- Ron Perlman as Felson
- Robert Sheehan as Kay von Wollenbarth
- Claire Foy as Anna
- Stephen Campbell Moore as Debelzaq
- Ulrich Thomsen as Johann Eckhardt
- Stephen Graham as Hagamar
- Christopher Lee as Cardinal D'Ambroise
- Simone Kirby as Midwife in Villach
- Nick Sidi as Priest in Villach
- Rory McCann as Soldier Commander in Villach
- Brían F. O'Byrne as Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights
Development and filming
Screenwriter Bragi F. Schut wrote Season of the Witch as a spec script that was placed on the open market in 2000. Numerous studios bid on the script, and producers Charles Roven and Alex Gartner collaborated with the studio MGM to place a winning bid. MGM could not find traction to produce the film, and in 2003–2004 the studio "was essentially obtained by a number of concerns". Columbia Pictures earmarked several properties for themselves, including Season of the Witch. The producers worked with director Dominic Sena to perform location shooting throughout Europe. They sought a 14th-century castle to use as a setting for the story; castles visited in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic could not fit the period. With the film yet to be produced, the project eventually moved to Relativity Media, and Sena was officially attached to direct. Business and creative discussions led to avoiding too much violence or gore in the film so a broader audience could see it. Actor Nicolas Cage was considered for the starring role but was unavailable during the time of the location shooting. Cage eventually became available in 2008 and was cast in the role. He explained his interest, "I wanted to make movies that celebrated actors like Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, and the great Roger Corman classics that are unafraid to explore the paranormal and the supernatural."
The crew began production immediately after Cage finished Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009). The film had a budget of approximately US$40 million, and much of the budget was covered by Relativity with pre-sales to distributors outside the United States. Filming took place in Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Most of the principal photography took place in practical locations, with several days committed to filming on greenscreen. Scenes were filmed at Burg Kreuzenstein and on the Loser mountain. Principal photography was completed by April 2009, but the cast and crew re-gathered a few months later to film additional battle sequences, filming on greenscreen to save on travel.
Cage stars as Behman of Bleibruck, a Teutonic knight who returns from the Crusades to discover the devastation caused by the Black Plague. The actor had worked with director Dominic Sena on Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) and with producer Charles Roven on City of Angels (1998). Cage was interested in the film's fantastical subject matter, also having recently starred in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. He also described Behmen as "the first" conscientious objector, saying, "I admired... the idea of him breaking from whatever religious propaganda was forced upon him, and still finding an even closer connection with his faith and with God. Those iconoclastic elements to the character made him very interesting to me." For the role, Cage learned horseback riding from Camilla Naprous and her team of horse trainers in England. Cage also worked with a fight choreographer to learn swordfighting.
Perlman plays Felson, a knight who is Behmen's best friend and fellow combatant during the Crusades. Perlman said of choosing the role, "I love the character. I'm actually more comfortable being a sidekick, because I don't get blamed if it is a complete disaster. I really liked ... his mindset, I liked his irreverence. In the world of seriousness, he's a guy who thinks it's all bullshit. He's just in it for the whores and the sword fights." Perlman described Felson's religion, "Whereas Behmen has a very well-articulated idea of his relationship to country and church and spirituality and God, Felson has none. He doesn't bother to spend any time thinking about that."
Foy appears in her feature-film debut as the girl who is accused of being a witch. Known for her titular role in the British miniseries Little Dorrit, she met Sena and sought the role in Season of the Witch. She explained the choice, "It's quite a manipulative role; the character does a lot of manipulating. Pitting other people against each other, being quite mischievous... That was something I thought would obviously be good to do." Foy researched witchcraft and demonic possession for the role. She described its appeal, "Playing a character that was making things happen, and mainly in control of an entire group of men. And for once, be the character that is completely in the know about everything. There is nothing that she doesn't know. Nothing is a surprise. And she is able to deal with every single situation that arises the way that she sees fit. And I think that was quite refreshing to be able to play a character that wasn't entirely beholden to everyone else."
For Season of the Witch, Tippett Studio designed the demon that manifests in the film's denouement. The art directors researched woodcuts and other artwork for classic demonic appearances. The filmmakers requested an entity "lithe and feminine", and the visual effects crew designed a demon that had "cloven feet, a dog ankle and a fawn leg". Designing visual effects for the demon's wings was the biggest challenge since wings tend to get in the way or do not move convincingly. The filmmakers also requested holes in the demon's wings. The crew designed holes that appeared worn instead of ripped since ripped holes would require an added billowing effect.
The demon was also designed to have dark gray skin, which presented the crew a challenge in the film's dark settings. Tippett's Blair Clark said, "We played the skin like a rotten mummy: nothing too moist, with a lot of wear marks on it." The crew's final visual effects shot was the death of the demon, and they researched previous films and terminology for how demons' deaths have been designed. They drew inspiration from Hellboy (2004) where they focused on the buildup to the demon's death. Clark said, "We built it over a series of shots so it doesn't just happen in one shot. We had little patches on the demon that start to crack and result in a glow that looks like it's burning from within."
Lionsgate scheduled Season of the Witch to be released on March 19, 2010, but five weeks before the date, the studio decided to pull the film from release. Lionsgate originally had an output deal with Relativity Media, but since Relativity had formed its own marketing and distribution arm in 2010, Relativity chose to release the film themselves and in October 2010 the film was pushed back a year from its original release date of March 19, 2010 to January 7, 2011. Season of the Witch was Relativity's first inhouse production.
Season of the Witch in January 2010 had been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America, citing "thematic elements, violence, and disturbing content". The studio edited the film and re-submitted it to the MPAA in November 2010 for a new rating. The MPAA gave the film the same rating and reason for it as before.
The film had its world premiere in New York City on January 4, 2011. The film was released commercially on January 7, 2011 in several territories. Pre-release polling had indicated young men were the core demographic for the film, though more women than expected expressed interest in the film. Experts anticipated that the film would gross US$10–12 million on its opening weekend in the United States and Canada. The film was released in 2,816 theaters in the two territories. It grossed $10.6 million, ranking third at the box office after True Grit and Little Fockers, which were both released at the end of 2010. Relativity Media's exit polling showed that the audience was 52% male and that 61% were 25 years old and up. The Los Angeles Times reported that an "unusually high" 69% of the audience was nonwhite. Entertainment Weekly reported that the racial diversity of Season of the Witch's audiences was common for supernatural thrillers; the breakdown was 36% Hispanic, 31% Caucasian, 14% Asian, 10% African-American, and 9% "other". According to CinemaScore, audiences gave the film a C+ grade. The film was the second release by Relativity and performed better than its first release, The Warrior's Way (2010). The opening weekend was not the lowest of Nicolas Cage's career to that point; it was better than The Wicker Man (2006), Next (2007) and Bangkok Dangerous (2008).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (under a new output license deal with Relativity) released the film on DVD and Blu-ray on June 28, 2011. 20th Television holds pay-per-view, on-demand, and television rights to this film under Fox's new deal with Relativity/Rogue.
Season of the Witch grossed $24.8 million in the United States and Canada and $66.8 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $91.6 million.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 11% based on 125 reviews, with an average rating of 3.80/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Slow, cheap-looking, and dull, Season of the Witch fails even as unintentional comedy." Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 28 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.
Associated Press movie critic Christy Lemire called Season of the Witch "a supernatural action thriller that's never actually thrilling" and "The scenery is drab, the battles are interchangeable, and no one seems particularly interested in being here." According to the Los Angeles Times, critics said that Cage was the primary reason that "this swords-and-sorcery romp is a collosal [sic] waste of time". Andrew Barker of Variety said Season of the Witch was "both overblown and undercooked" and thought the film would have been more fun if it had a sense of humor. He called the film "too inert for midnight-movie schadenfreudists, and not nearly competent enough for even the most forgiving of fantasy fans". Of the film's production value, he said, "Witch's photography, costumes and production design are of good quality; editing, scoring and visual effects are most decidedly not."
Tom Huddleston of Time Out London wrote, "Despite its admirably straight face, Season of the Witch is a silly romp through Pythonesque medieval cliché and knockabout Hammer horror with a dash of cut-price Tolkien chucked in to keep things moving." Huddleston criticized Cage's performance but praised Perlman's. The critic concluded, "'Season of the Witch' is not for everyone: it’s creaky, predictable and frequently idiotic. But for a tipsy Saturday night, this should tick all the right boxes."
Writing for The Observer, Mark Kermode described it as "like a cross between Michael Reeves's brilliant Witchfinder General and Renny Harlin's abysmal Exorcist: The Beginning, with a fair (if unintentional) sprinkling of Monty Python and the Holy Grail thrown in for good measure... It's all utter balderdash from start to finish, with everyone sporting terrible period haircuts, and characters appearing and disappearing in a manner which suggests that the editors' minds were on other things; namely, the big finale which is, sadly, a bit rubbish."
Salon's Andrew O'Hehir called the film a "Hollywood-by-Hungary" remake with the "B-movie aesthetic" of director Roger Corman. O'Hehir wrote, "Season of the Witch is an unremitting schlockfest, full of blood and filth, bloated, purulent corpses, ghastly one-eyed witches and undead monks. If there were more such Corman-esque thrills and chills, and a whole bunch less ponderous Bergman references, we'd all be better off."
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