Movie of the Week 68
Season of the Witch 2011 drama horror historical
I'm fascinated by movies and stories with Book of Job themes in which the protagonist(s) struggles to believe in a loving God despite ample evidence to the contrary. These dark tales are timeless and cut to the heart of human craving for meaning and hope in the midst of despair, in this case, the dreaded Black Plague of 14th century Medieval Europe. The film fares better than most flicks in the horror genre because of good performances from the three lead actors; Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are two bad-ass knights (Beymen and Felson) and Claire Foy plays “The Girl” accused of being a witch and causing the Black Plague.
In a key scene in the movie, our two knights are arrested and brought before the Cardinal (Christopher Lee) who has the plague and is on his death bed. The scene has a sense of realism – the four or five doctors attending the Cardinal are all wearing plague masks. The primitive masks had large beaks which were stuffed with dried flowers and herbs to block the bad smells of the open plague sores. The Cardinal decrees that for the knights to earn their freedom, they must escort a caged wagon to the Abbey of Severac. The girl in the cage has been accused of witchcraft and will be tried by the Monks at Severac using the sacred Book of Rituals. A priest, Debelzaq, is put in the charge of the expedition.
The journey begins with a guide, 4 guards (including Bayman and Perlman) and the priest driving the wagon. The landscape is rugged mountains with narrow trails – I had the feeling the setting was high in the French Alps. As you would expect, the journey has plenty of action to keep the tension level and the viewer's interest high from start to finish. What I really liked about the film wasn't so much the swordplay, but that things are not as they seem: Initially we think that the priest is a misogynist who enjoys killing women, but this proves to be not the case at all. Also the girl is quite extraordinary – beside being physically very strong, she could skillfully transition herself into being a frightened innocent girl one moment to being very manipulative and menacing the next. Claire delivers an amazing performance in her first feature film debut. We are buffeted with conflicting information regarding the girl and the priest all the way to Severac. What is the real truth here? Eventually we find out, but not before the SHTF and swords are drawn in a fight to the finish. No spoilers.
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