Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Seventh Son

Seventh Son
Dir. Sergei Bodrov

2 out of 5

Meryl Streep famously spoke of the difficulties that actresses face upon reaching a certain age - upon turning 40, she reportedly began receiving a deluge of offers to play witches, a role she resisted until last year's Into the Woods.  The starkly generic fantasy Seventh Son seems a lot like the type of movie that Streep was turning down years ago.  It's a film that has no use for female characters who aren't witches, or at least closely associated with the villainous coven led by Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), a powerful sorceress who has returned after a decades-long exile to seek vengeance on John Gregory (Jeff Bridges), the "spook" - a kind of supernatural bounty hunter - who imprisoned her.

It's easy to read Seventh Son as a feature-length act of acquiescence.  The movie squanders a talented cast on a pro forma hero's journey invested exclusively in meat-and-potatoes fantasy clich├ęs (gee, I hope this magic pendant comes in handy later).  As the last representative of an order dedicated to protecting people from evil magical creatures, Gregory is forever in search of a worthy apprentice.  When his latest one dies, he tracks down Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), a restless farmboy so blatantly Skywalker-esque he actually stares into the middle distance and verbally confirms that he's meant for something greater than this.  As they fight their way through Malkin's minions, Gregory gradually convinces Tom that bitches be crazy and that all witches should be summarily executed.  However, the boy nurtures a seed of dissent when he discovers that a mysterious young woman (Alicia Vikander) accused of being a witch might not be so bad after all.

There's nothing wrong with embracing the Joseph Campbell template, but you had better bring something new to the equation.  All of Seventh Son's flimflam about bloodlines and destiny amounts to little more than a few character beats in the film's loud, boring climax, when its sudden stabs at profundity feel completely unearned.  And while most of the cast more or less plays the material straight, Bridges tries way too hard in turning Gregory into one of his signature wizened drunks; for some reason, this one happens to talk like Alfred Hitchcock after swallowing a truckload of gravel.  (One of the movie's few interesting undercurrents is that the heroes progress through the story despite its wise man's consistent recklessness, hectoring, and hardline stance on witch genocide.)  Alas, when the montage of medieval fantasy images in the end credits suggests a deeper and more interesting world than anything in the actual movie, it's clear that Seventh Son suffers from a fatal lack of imagination.

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