. . . or, what we sacrifice for journalism. A much-delayed horror film finally sees the light of the silver screen and the world is not necessarily any better for it.
Oscar® winner Nicolas Cage (National Treasure, Ghost Rider) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Hellboy II, Sons of Anarchy) star in this supernatural action adventure about a heroic Crusader and his closest friend who return home after decades of fierce fighting, only to find their world destroyed by the Plague. The church elders, convinced that a girl accused of being a witch is responsible for the devastation, command the two to transport the strange girl to a remote monastery where monks will perform an ancient ritual to rid the land of her curse. They embark on a harrowing, action-filled journey that will test their strength and courage as they discover the girl’s dark secret and find themselves battling a terrifyingly powerful force that will determine the fate of the world.
The Good: An interesting setting and premise create an oppressive dark ages atmosphere. There is no romance in this knights and monsters story. The landscape of rolling hills and forests are silent and barren in winter. Towns are clapboard shacks smeared in mud. The plague is everywhere and its victims are covered in boils while doctors in beaked masks draw blood from the infected and flagellants parade through the streets begging for God’s mercy. The practical effects and makeup continue to be affective in creating the setting and are suitably grotesque; featuring the pustule-ridden Christopher Lee and a small army of monks-turned-deadites. It’s too bad all this background is often marred by incongruous elements like dodgy CGI.
Ulrich Tompson (Fear Me Not, Tell Tale, the upcoming The Thing prequel) gave a committed performance in a rather minor role as the champion sent to assist the Crusaders in their task. Unlike many others, his character and performance remained focused and unburdened by the forced development of the others.
The final act of the film becomes a rollicking mess of violence and demonic superpowers. It descends to the level of laughably bad and becomes much more enjoyable for it. How does this improve the film? Ron Perlman head-butts the devil. How did you feel when you read that?
The Bad: The plot is nonsensical and full of holes feeling like too many people have reworked the story. Considering release was delayed and delayed again, it’s no surprise that the result is a confused mess of shifting motivations. Previously significant elements of the story are forgotten and the reasons behind the journey shift to suit whatever scene is happening at the time.
The Church as an entity and faith as a motivation illustrate this point. The brutality of the crusades causes the knights to lose their faith in the Church and desert. They are almost immediately faced with battling the evils of Hell. Their faith is never challenged. Does the film have a stance on these weighty subjects of faith, of violence in God’s name, or of the separation between what God would have us do and what his supposed representatives order us to do? If there were any answers in the story, they have been obscured beyond understanding.
In addition to lacking a strong central theme, the film’s pace is also uneven. Lacking a sense of progress from one scene to the next. Some scenes become boring; dialog-heavy and overlong, while at the same time character development is minimal and rushed between action sequences of the Random Forest Encounter Table variety.
Dialog bizarrely wavers between Elizabethan English delivered like a bad Shakespeare performance and incongruously modern speech. Sometimes line-by-line. As the party travels into the haunted woods the rogue character speaks up to say “Fog like a veil before mine eyes. Can’t see my hand in front-a-my face.” The tone remains inconsistent within scenes as a result. Jokes falls flat because of this mess of language and poor delivery from even the known talents.
While it is expected that the plot and dialog are meant to remain secondary to the action, adventure and monsters in the film, even the fight scenes become quickly repetitive and layers of CGI over the practical effects lessen their apparent quality. Little is done to build suspense or mood. Scares aren’t scary.
Does it pass the Bechdel test? No. There are very few women and the female lead is only named “the girl.” All her lines are pleas for help or Linda Blair-esque challenges and insults to the men.
Crowbait says: About that dialog boondoggle, I was wondering if they had two scripts; one written in middle school Shakespearean and the other as the Cliff’s Notes of same. In the edit room they couldn’t decide which one to use so they just kept it all. Well, it’s a theory anyway.
As bad as this movie is, it’s not beyond the pale for actors like Perlman and Lee who have done more than their share of work as b-movie regulars. They immediately fit into the simple roles and awkward dialog they are given. But Nicholas Cage should be embarrassed by his listless performance, bringing nothing to the role. And ashamed of that wig as well.
Jenny Dreadful says: It looks like it could be so bad it’s good in the trailer. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s funny, but not funny enough. It doesn’t work as a solid horror actioner or a good laugh. Even though Nic Cage’s flowing blond locks will haunt me always, avoid. Avoid. AVOID. Wait for Sean Bean in Christopher Smith’s Black Death. Or revisit Army of Darkness.