Season of the Witch

A priest, some crusaders and a witch wander into the woods. Turns out the joke is on whoever pays to see the movie. An overwrought, overstuffed tale of medieval mysticism, Season of the Witch fails on every possible level, from storytelling to acting to star Nicolas Cage’s improbable hairpiece.

The film follows two Crusade deserters, Behman (Cage: Kick Ass) and Felson (Ron Perlman: Tangled), who return to their homeland only to find that the Black Plague has ravaged the people. The clergy has blamed a beautiful ragamuffin girl (Claire Foy: Upstairs Downstairs) as the witch who cursed the land with Black Death.

The two crusaders are forced to choose between the death penalty for desertion or escorting a priest and the accused witch to a monastery for her trial. Initially, Behman refuses to serve the church any more, until he gets a look at the battered and frightened girl. Then, he decides to escort her to her trial, to make sure she’s unharmed before the monks hang her and drown the body.

That’s just the kind of guy he is.

Of course, the monastery is located on the other side of a dark and spooky forest, which necessitates recruiting a few more colorful characters to serve as cannon fodder for the journey. Each added member is so stereotypical and poorly drawn that I half expected a cowardly Great Dane to join the magical mystery caravan.

Creeping further into the woods, our heroes battle evil mind games, evil fog and evil wolves — all with the help of God and swords.

This onslaught prompted my seatmate to turn to me with a concerned face and comment: “They’re going to need a bigger Bible.”

It was a good line. Better than any screenwriter Bragi F. Shut (Threshold) could come up with.

And that is the tragedy of Season of the Witch: It’s a terrible B-movie that takes itself seriously. Only Ron Perlman, who should be awarded hazard pay for his work in this film, tries to elevate it. His Felson seems to be staring in a buddy cop movie, where he and Cage trade barbs and battle stories. If Perlman’s version had been made, it might have been a fun ride through a campy movie.

Any joviality and banter Perlman attempts falls flat thanks to a morose and uninteresting leading man. Cage, possibly calculating how many more of these movies he must do to draw himself clear of bankruptcy, is only concerned with flipping his glorious mane of dirty-blond curls and squinting into middle distance.

Foy tries to imbue her character with mystery, and there’s an interesting implication that the priest escorting her might be abusing her. But the storyline is quickly quashed by director Dominic Sena (Whiteout), who seems to believe that ambiguity and subtlety are reserved for films that don’t have the budget for computer-generated images.

Brain-dead writing, bored acting and simplistic direction combine into a Molotov cocktail of bad cinema. There’s nothing worse than a movie so bad, you can’t even make fun of it.

Next time, producers should put Ron Perlman in charge of production. At least he tries to entertain.

Horrid Historical Thriller • PG-13 • 95 mins.