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Movie Review

Season of the Witch

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content.

Reviewed by: Rev. Bryan Griem

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Fantasy Action Adventure Supernatural Thriller
1 hr. 53 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
January 7, 2011 (wide—2,500+ theaters)
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Relevant Issues
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Suspected witch

Witches in the Bible



What is the Occult? Answer

THE OCCULT—What does the Bible say about it? Answer

Featuring: Nicolas Cage (Behman), Ron Perlman (Felson), Christopher Lee (Cardinal D’Ambroise), more »
Director: Dominic Sena—“Gone in Sixty Seconds,” “Swordfish”
Producer: Atlas Entertainment, Relativity Media, more »
Distributor: Relativity Media

“Not all souls can be saved.”

One of the difficulties in modern Christianity is answering all the objections about our historic past. The Crusades and the witch burnings of Europe (and even here in America’s 17th century Massachusetts) represent two of these, and this movie with Nicolas Cage deals with both during the brief window of time when the two issues may have been contemporaneous. Go back to medieval times, when the Black Death ravaged the known world; Christian knights were finishing combat with the Muslim presence in the Holy Land, and witch-mania was becoming all the rage throughout Europe. This is where the movie picks up.

The complaint of modern critics culminate in one moment here as the hero of the story puts a sword through the belly of an innocent woman—who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. She dies, Cage feels sick to his stomach, and the movie really kicks off as he and his bro, actor Ron Perlman, desert the army in search of nobler climes.

It’s really quite something, the few moments of Crusader warfare that is presented in various locations through myriad climates where white knights combat Moorish hoards all in the name of God and the Church. The fight scenes are as violent as we’ve seen in such movies as Braveheart, but less protracted and more to measure time as they progress through the Crusader era up to the point of the task at hand; the witches.

Sir Behman (Nicolas Cage) and friend, decide to humor the church which they had already forsaken, and wheel a condemned witch off to some exorcising monastery where the Plague can be halted if some Latin incantations may be uttered and all sorcery destroyed. Turns out, the whole thing has less to do with witchcraft and more to do with demon possession as the girl who holds the answer to the world’s problem proves to have the strength of several men, the power of darkness, and the ability to move the plot forward until she arrives at her destination, which is in the very place the men of God had put their hope. All is lost, it seems, until the knights defeat the demons, the words are incanted, and the girl is released from her oppression.

While watching this movie, I was struck by the thought that finally Cage had found a character he was suited for. He seemed knightly, but the movie itself lacked something. I don’t know what it was, perhaps the “wow” factor? It was okay, and I didn’t feel cheated paying my fare or my son’s, but it was very Hollywood and short on reality. Oh well.

When I consider the efforts of the Crusaders, those soldiers of the past who went into battle, not to hurt civilians but to preserve Christianity, I am somewhat put off by representations that make them out to be little more than villains. We Americans have tried to be the wearers of the white hat in many a military confrontation, only to have such as Lt. Calley and thousands of Amerasian children result for our muddled efforts as sinful, yet generally moral people. So the movie takes a small jab at the then church and its military, of which we all owe a familial allegiance, and then it waves the righteous banner in the end when its defenders do their sworn duty.

Objectionable might be the way in which the church is depicted; it’s illogical in its conclusions about women it deems witchcrafty, and the movie begins with the clergy hanging three of these. But there is something about the corpses that make the audience believe there is some justification in all this—though we know in reality there is not. Witchcraft seems possible, but any Christian worth their salt will soon surmise that these conjurers are not some nature-loving worshippers of pagan-deities-past that are being persecuted, but demon-possessed people who exhibit all the horrid affect of cases from the time of Christ. In pre-revolutionary America, the witch hysteria resulted in repentance from all involved, but in Europe, the Plague dictated the prevailing view, and the devil was surely at work in the day’s thinking. So much so, that all believed in Satan’s witchcrafting agents. I am uncertain if modern people would have perceived the situation any differently.

In any event, the movie provides a respite from reality, an exaltation of right, and a denouncement of evil. That’s a good thing. By the same token, it gives a skewed view of demonic influence and a rather PC view of Christianity. The witches in the movie really do seem to have some guilt, though I think most Christians would agree that the witch hysteria of Europe was probably brought about by their fear of prevailing circumstances rather than actual witchcraft. Also, the movie almost immediately alerts the adept that demonism, and not speculative superstition, rules the venue. No sooner does the viewer meet the primary witch, than they start wondering if she really isn’t more so in league with the devil.

When all is said and done, it becomes clear that witchcraft isn’t the menace here, it is definitely Satan. This is when we start reflecting on the sheer ridiculousness of it all. The Season of the Witch is not about witchcraft at all, it’s about demon possession, and perhaps here we can begin our review.

First, we have to remember that we as a church in times past were essentially united until the Reformation, so Crusader and witch history is everyone’s history. Secondly, the movie really doesn’t spend its lion share on the Crusades, the era only provides a lead-in to the time of witchhunting. The movie does have some salient moments, but if we look at it through a Christian lens, we have to say that “yes, witches are bad, but demons are worse.” Few believe that the persecuted of the time actually practiced divination or necromancy, but the movie puts it out like it’s some kind of fact. Hey folks, that’s not the Christian community, that’s Hollywood; the witches in question are not really witches at all, but some kind of people possessed. We witness the main witch saving the saviors in this movie, while at the same time deceiving them. This is true to form as Satan often acts as an “angel of light” to destroy the saints (2 Cor. 11:14).

What is weird is the idea that demons, spiritual entities (although malevolent) need humans to get to destinations or to do anything their minds conceive as necessary. We have nothing to do with them, really, so to make us their vehicles of transportation or salvation seems very, very weak to me. The movie even has these spirit entities taking physical form like giant bats to combat the heroic Crusaders, only to have themselves “killed” by chopping their heads off or by hearing Latin verses quoted from apocryphal books.

In all, the movie is a great fiction, written to spook the general public, but inadvertently to waken the Christian community to know its own colorful yesteryear. We will wonder at the amazing cinematography, but also at its worldly skew. Many swear-words will be heard, including “Hell” used as an expletive, slangs for urine and feces, “save you’re a@@,” and a synonym for perdition used to refer to the weather. The witch is referred to as such with a b, instead of w, a couple of times, and that pretty much does it for objectionable language in this movie. No “F” bombs, and not too many of the previously mentioned.

The movie does display the use of alcohol, both medicinally and recreationally. It also has one very minute, and I mean minute, moment of nudity when the woman is delivered of her possession and the audience can see from it’s skewed angle that she is probably nude on the floor in the aftermath of her exorcism. It is not lurid, nor is it really, terribly, worthy of mention, but it is there (in case anyone wonders). The violence in the movie has most to do with swordplay, but the demons also fight to the death, and there are some unsettling wolf attacks where the animals bite and presumably eat people.

The Book of Solomon is often referred to in the movie and the Christian may wonder if by this is meant the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs, but what is meant surely means the deuterocanonical (false) work, the Wisdom of Solomon. One passage reads therein, “thou hatest for doing most odious works of witchcrafts” (12:4). It’s hard to tell, because in the movie this book is especially effective only when read in Latin and when pertaining most specifically to witches or demons. I find the whole thing somewhat silly, as language hardly matters, demons couldn’t care less if your throw holy water at them, and one book or another has no words so magical as to render demons incapable. Biblically speaking, demons respond to commands in “Jesus’ name” and no other. The Bible provides no incantations and no special gymnastics to depose malevolent entities; only the powerful authority of God and that’s it.

There are some graphic depictions of the plague’s ravishing, a minor scene of tavern revelry, some allusion to past sins, and some unsettling moments where dead people seem to momentarily gain consciousness and reach, only to then fall placidly back in their place.

The movie provides some good advice for not believing everything one hears, but to obey God more assuredly. Does the Church speak for God, or is every man responsible to God independent of the ecclesiastical politic? This is a questions raised by the film, and then there is the adventure of good versus evil. Good wins, Satan is defeated, and the poor gal accused of witchcraft is delivered without nary a clue. Most of the heroes die, and there is no reason for the viewer to sit through the credits, as no extra twist or bit of film is delivered after the fact.

I might recommend this film, but not as an award winner, just as something cultural that speaks to our faith and might be of some use for outreach. I don’t find it especially offensive, and, as mentioned previously, I took my high school son to see it with me. His opinions were helpful in this review.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—My husband picked this movie for us. I went to the theater reluctantly, thinking the film would be nonstop war scenes. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was rife with Biblical themes! There was a great deal of sword fighting and scenes showing rotten, plague-riddled corpses, but I did not find it gratuitous.

“Season of the Witch” is basically a story of a couple of Crusaders who quit after women and children were slaughtered in their last battle. Out of work and on the run, they find themselves responsible for bringing a witch to trial in a faraway town. One of the tender-hearted Crusaders, guilt ridden over having killed a young woman in battle, wonders if the witch (a beguiling young woman) is really a witch.

The answer becomes apparent as the film progresses (you’ll have to see it to find out) and the ending was very satisfying. I enjoyed it! The only thing I did not like was the sacred book, from which prayers and rituals were used by the Crusaders, was based on the apocryphal book of Solomon. But then again, they were Catholic, so I guess that’s to be expected.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Cathy, age 39 (USA)
Neutral—I brought my 12 year old daughter to see the movie. It was very suspenseful, as we kept waiting for the next scary thing to happen. I wouldn’t bring a child under the age of a mature 12. It kept our interest, and we were glad that the name of Jesus was mentioned. Also, I appreciated the exorcism prayers in the book being of the latin language. I explained to my daughter that these exorcisms still happen today in the Catholic church and that all sin should be seen as “of the evil one”—even the minor stuff.

We were sorry we spent the money we did, though, and would only have rented it from a Red Box if we had known better.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Linda , age 38 (USA)
Neutral—Would not have gone to see this movie if I had known there was possession in it. I don’t care for movies with demon possession—too real a topic. Other than that, pretty good movie. It did leave me guessing for a bit if the priest was a bad guy, if the girl knew the young man who came to help as she had a smile that let me think he was there to really rescue her. I just don’t like demon possession in my movies.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Andrea, age 38 (USA)
Negative—My wife and I usually enjoy movies that star Nicolas Cage, unfortunately this movie isn’t his normal fare. I expected a semi-historical portrayal of a time in history that includes the Crusades and a time when people were accused of being witches. This felt more like a horror movie, with things jumping out all the time and people getting killed. I wouldn’t recommend this movie. It was so unenjoyable, we left before the movie was over.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Drew, age 33 (USA)
Negative—This is the worst picture of the year. With awful performances—especially from Nic Cage, with blonde hair to boot!—along with misguided direction of a terrible script, this is a sure-fire contender for the Razzie Awards this year. The plot—if that’s what you want to call it—makes no sense whatsoever. This film doesn’t even work on a “so-bad-it’s-good” level, which is sad, because this could have been a howler, along the lines of Cage’s last flop, “The Wicker Man.” Nic Cage is a talented man.

We’ve seen him at his best, in powerful films such as Leaving Las Vegas, and he’s made some decent action films, such as The Rock—but here, in “Season of the Witch,” his talents are wasted on a script that sat on the shelf at Warner Brothers for years before it was finally produced. My advice is to skip it. Save your money, and see “Black Swan,” “True Grit,” or “The Fighter,” instead. The reviewer on this site must have seen a different film, what with the four star rating. I’d give it a half of a star, and that’s being generous.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: ½
—Steven Adam Renkovish, age 28 (USA)
Negative—Though this movie was dark and disturbing, I was actually enjoying it somewhat, until I learned that the “witch” was actually possessed by a demon. That is where my husband and I started to laugh. Since when do demons need humans to transport them anywhere? Since when is all hope lost unless we are delivered by a human? And since when can demons read minds?

Unless this particular demon was at the scene where Behman accidentally kills a woman or unless he was advised by another, which seems unlikely, there would be no way that this demon would know about this incident. We are led to believe that this demon knows what is in the minds of people, as it leads one of the characters to his death by projecting the image of his dead daughter into his mind.

And, in fact, it is this allusion (when the “witch” confronts Behman over the woman he killed, and he wonders how she could know that) that alerts the priest to the fact that it is a demon they are dealing with and not a witch.

I realize that this is fiction, but there are events in this film that stem from real events in history, and I’m afraid this could lead people to the wrong conclusions about Christianity. All of the trouble these guys went to in this film, when all they would really have to do is say “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to leave this body.” There are your magic words.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Amy, age 35 (USA)
Comments from young people
Negative—To be honest, I did not approve of this movie, though it may only be a matter of opinion. While, of course, this movie has to do with witchcraft and witch trials, it also has to do with demons, Satan and the occult. It is fair to note that all characters in this movie look at the occult, witchcraft and demon possession in a bad light, and they are determined to punish the witch for her guilt. However, I believe that this kind of content should not be put in a movie, and, if put in a movie, I believe that a Christian should stay away from it. The content about the occult was very disturbing and very real, and I felt disturbed watching it.

Then, the idea of demon possession was also quite disturbing. Several times in the Bible, God condemns witchcraft and the occult, forbidding any association whatsoever with it. While the characters were strongly against the witches and believed in punishing them for their “contracts with Lucifer,” the idea of such a REAL portrayal of the occult should not be put in a movie that is meant for entertainment. The occult is NOT a laughing matter and should not be used for entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the moviemaking quality was actually quite good, despite the occultic elements. I think that Nicolas Cage did as good a job at his role as anyone could have in this movie. The filmmakers did a good job on portraying the time period of ancient Europe, as well as the idea of the Crusades.

But, I still do not believe that this movie was particularly uplifting. It was dark, disturbing, and I did not approve of it. Again, this could only be my opinion and my lack of guts to watch disturbing movies. I believe that it is up to the Christian’s own discernment, whether or not they should watch it, but I did not like the movie, and I do not recommend it. I hope this review was of help!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Alyssa, age 16 (Canada)