Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch. Directed & Written by George A. Romero.

Preconceptions: I've been a Romero fan since I was a blushing girl of 15. His blend of viscerally violent horror mixed with good dialogue and ham handed (to my grown up, more sophisticated sensibilities) satire have always cut to the core of what I enjoy. Plus, he was into zombies well before they were cool. His more recent movies have been a terrible let down, Diary of the Dead was clearly the journal of a sad old man who no longer understands what's cool and yells at his grandchildren to explain what a video blog is. After seeing that pathetic mess, I decided to finally treat myself. I've been saving Season of the Witch for a while, it's the only one of the old Romero films I haven't seen, so I settled in to be reminded what I love about horror.

General Review: Y'know, I don't know that I'd call Season of the Witch a horror film. I think if I'd gone into it knowing that I'd have liked it better. It was shot like a horror, felt like it was culminating to a horrific conclusion but ended up being more about liberation and self discovery. Actually, liberation and self discovery and how those things can come at a high price and still might leave you feeling lousy. I guess that's horrific in a way, but not so much in the zombies clawing at the window way that I was expecting.

Season of the Witch was shot very much in that tight, occasionally delusional style that I like so well. It had a number of bizarre symbolic dream sequences that reminded me both of the Prisoner for their strangeness and the Stepford Wives for their ability to make the everyday sinister and frightening. The dream sequences were by far the most effective part of the movie. Close shots, strange sound effects and frantic, half hidden action all made for memorable visuals. The reoccurring themes and images the occur in and outside of the dreams also worked well.

Unfortunately, this movie really lacked in action. I've since read that Romero didn't really care for this one, saying that he didn't get the performance out of the actors that he was looking for. I thought the actors were fine, Jan White (who played the lead) in particular. But her haunting eyes and well-portrayed disdain for her life of 70's wife-ery didn't save several long-ass scenes that didn't go anywhere. I understand that Romero wanted us to feel the same loathing for both the hippie douchebags and the middle class douchebags (ah there is the delightfully heavy hand of Romero social commentary), but when I want to be involved in a boring party or mean trick on a house wife, I'm perfectly capable of staging either. I don't need to be present for every agonizing minute of it. What was more irksome was that once I'd gotten through the dull party and into the witching not much happened there either. Sitting quietly at a table and chanting doesn't make for a whole lot of tension. I think we were meant to buy that Jan White had abused her witch-ay woman powers and was being punished for it with bad dreams-but this was just confusing since she started the movie with bad dreams, before she every tried the dark arts. Also, a character being afraid of their dreams and not doing anything about it doesn't really constitute action, either. I saw the longer cut (by Anchor Bay) of the movie thinking that I was in good hands, but maybe the shorter version would have been less frustrating.

I can't, in good conscience, recommend Season of the Witch. Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of things I liked about it. I liked the complexity of the idea that freeing yourself from an oppressive society maybe isn't as great as it's made out to be. I loved the dream sequences and Jan White, whose presence carried a movie that was very nearly a one-hander (no, shockingly I'm not talking about that, this time). But when a movie that's only a little over an hour and a half drags there is clearly a problem with the plot or pacing. This movie needed more going on in it, something at stake and it flailed around looking for these things and never found them.

Aside: On a more superficial note, if your lead is supposed to be aging and realizing her daughter is younger and hotter than her, perhaps you could cast someone who looks significantly younger and hotter to play the daughter.

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