Season of the Witch (2011)
Season of the Witch (2011) is a movie directed by Dominic Sena that stars Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Robert Sheehan, and Claire Foy. The film follows two deserters of the crusades in the fourteenth century; they are tasked with transporting a witch, accused of spreading the plague, to a monastery for her trial. The witch turns out to be a demon, and the characters must battle this demon to save the world from more plague. In the end they succeed and save the Book of Solomon, incantations from which defeat the demon. Season of the Witch made a $91.6 million worldwide profit despite receiving terrible reviews from critics and audiences alike. Rolling Stone, for example, said: “…it’s as bloodless as a starved vampire. Instead of a review, it deserves a stake to the heart. Die, monster, die.” The film was mostly reviled for its gaping plot holes and use of terrible CGI.
Season of the Witch is ripe with historical anachronisms. Plague doctors appear in bird masks, which we don’t see appear until the postmedieval period. In Season of the Witch, the dates of various crusades battles are changed to have them sync up with the events of the plague. For example, the Siege of Tripoli is dated on screen as happening in 1334; it actually happened in 1102-1109. The Battle of Artah, in the film, is dated to 1339; it actually occured in 1105. The Battle of Smyrna is accurately dated to 1344, but that battle is not part of the earlier crusades the film claims to be portraying. Another anachronism that bothered many reviewers was the mix of period “accurate” dialogue and “modern” dialogue at seemingly random times without consistency. Season of the Witch draws on some of the imagery of The Seventh Seal, but is a cheesy and cheap imitation. The only real thematic similarity is the story of a crusader returning home to deal with death (in both the literal and metaphorical sense).
The film draws on real crusade battle accounts and popular histories about the Teutonic Knights. Season of the Witch, like many films about the plague, also depicts the Flagellant Movement in a scene in which people were attempting combat the plague spiritually.
The film also portrays the practice of witches being killed twice: hanged and then drowned. They were not always burned at the stake, and this “double killing” ensured they were actually dead. Season of the Witch does not treat its women too kindly. Women in the film exist to either be accused of witchcraft or to further the men’s story. The only woman who speaks in the movie is literally just a vessel for an actual demon. Season of the Witch advances the perspective that God keeps women good and pure and humble; without God, all women are potentially vessels for evil. Women with power and physical strength, as the young woman is depicted in this movie, must be involved in witchcraft. The film seems to posit that that power comes not from the woman herself but from a male demon or Satan.
Season of the Witch is also problematic in its treatment of ethnic minorities. The two crusaders have a white savior complex, made clear when they decide to quit fighting in the crusades. White guilt is also their main motivation for seeking goodness. Nicolas Cage’s character is haunted by the memory of a dead girl he accidently kills. This girl is central to the internal life of the crusader, and she is also the most white-passing compared to the other characters of color on screen. The early scenes of the crusades in the Middle East are the film’s only depiction of non-white people, and they only appear on screen to be slain by these white saviors. All the extras are vaguely “ethnic,” and they seem to serve as a backdrop to the main characters’ problems rather than as people who existed in a specific place and time. Overall, Season of the Witch is a terribly “inaccurate” film with equally terrible production values.
Mid Atlantic Films
Lionsgate and Rogue Pictures (distributor)
Holy Roman Empire
Late Middle Ages (c. 1300-1500)
Moving Image Item Type Metadata