John Morehead’s always wonderful TheoFantastique features a discussion with Pagan academic and film critic Peg Aloi over the upcoming Nicolas Cage film “Season of the Witch”. In it, Cage stars as a 14th century Crusader charged with escorting a suspected witch to a remote abbey to conduct a ritual they hope will cure the Black Plague. While both Morehead and Aloi are fans of occult-laced genre films, Aloi has some general concerns about the messages sent by films like “Season of the Witch”.
My main concern in terms of any negative repercussions for modern witchcraft is that one of the trailers I saw does include images of the pentagram, and seems to be equating it with evil. This is typical Hollywood occultism, and of course the symbol probably was associated with the occult in the Middle Ages. But since modern witches use this symbol, I suppose this film may provide yet another example of negative associations. But this kind of thing then opens up the possibility that the type of witchcraft portrayed in the film should somehow be equated with Wicca or modern witchcraft, which is problematic, because of course it shouldn’t.
As for the story itself and any relevance it has to contemporary discussions of religion, or of modern witchcraft, I do think that it may provide an opportunity to consider how we view images of the witch in history. Why is the witch a dangerous female? Why is she not always what she seems? Why is she thought to be so powerful that she causes disease and destruction? Why has witchcraft historically been such a lynchpin in so many eras of cultural turmoil? In any case, this looks like it will be a fairly entertaining film, if not a remarkable piece of cinema, although it has a great cast and a very fine production designer. I’m hoping it will be pretty good. Of course, some audience members aren’t inclined to forgive Nic Cage’s last foray into occult stories after the diabolical remake of The Wicker Man. So there will no doubt be some who think he’s “got it in for us.”
Personally, whether this film turns out to be sympathetic towards the suspected witch, or simply turns her into an evil demonic force, I’m not much for caring. Despite starring in one or two decent films, Nicolas Cage is (or has devolved into) a b-grade hack of an actor. The fact that he starred in ruinous remakes of both “The Wicker Man” (turning it into a comedic freak-show) and “Wings of Desire” (renamed “City of Angels”), two of my all-time favorite films, makes him box-office poison to my movie-going dollars. I keep expecting him to star as Howard Beale in a remake of “Network” so he can befoul that classic as well.
As for the content of the film, if I was going to see a Black Death centered film with Crusaders and a suspected witch in it, I’d much rather take my chances on the Sean Bean-starring (you know, Boromir in “Lord of the Rings”) “Black Death”. Which treads much of the same ground, but seems far more intelligent.