Ah, Seventh Son. It is at times like these — i.e., when we are assigned to review Seventh Son — that we recall the immortal words spoken at the beginning of Seventh Son by Julianne Moore, who plays a witch who is also sometimes a dragon:
“My power returns with the rise of the blood moon. Hell awakens!”
Quite so, Ms. Moore. Quite so. The interminable and charmless Seventh Son is based on a British fantasy novel called “The Spook’s Apprentice” (retitled “The Last Apprentice” in the U.S.), about a medieval witch-hunter, or Spook, who recruits a young boy as his new trainee. The book spawned more than a dozen sequels; the movie was clearly made with a franchise in mind. In fact, it seems to have been made with ONLY that in mind. Rarely has there been a more perfunctory, half-hearted, disinterested, going-through-the-motions attempt at a tween-friendly fantasy film than this dull, factory-assembled product.
Jeff Bridges, giving the worst performance of his career, plays Gregory the Spook, a crusty old drunkard who speaks in a faux-Gandalf voice that would not be out of place in a “Saturday Night Live” parody of this sort of movie. Gregory’s job is to kill witches when necessary, and to keep tabs on the country’s supernatural creatures in general. When his current apprentice gets killed (it’s implied this happens a lot), he heads out to a dumpy farm to collect the next boy in line, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes). Only the seventh son of a seventh son can be a Spook’s apprentice, so there is a limited number of them. Tom, a visionary boy who has yearned to get away from his slovenly home anyway, is willing (or willing enough) to travel the countryside with a weird old man. And the adventure begins!
Moore plays Mother Malkin, the queen of witches, imprisoned for the last decade by Gregory himself but now freed by the aforementioned blood moon. She regroups with her sister (Antje Traue) and teenage niece, Alice (Alicia Vikander), to plan revenge against Gregory. Meanwhile, separately, young Tom meets Alice and develops a crush on her. The Spook’s apprentice in love with a witch? What’ll they think of next?!
Beat for beat, plot point for plot point, the film follows the template laid out for unimaginative fantasy stories. Ordinary boy is the Chosen One; he wears an amulet around his neck that will be important later; he is trained by his strict master, whose life he will eventually save in a “student becomes the teacher” moment; and so forth. Everyone talks in the flowery style typical of sword-and-sorcery flicks … except when it might be funny to say something modern, like when Gregory mutters “F***ing witches” under his breath, because haha! You weren’t expecting him to say THAT!
Directed by Sergey Bodrov (who made a Genghis Khan movie called Mongol that was pretty good, no joke), Seventh Son exerts no apparent effort to distinguish itself from other, better, more creative fantasy movies. It comes off like an assignment, like someone told Bodrov he had to make a movie, and it had to contain a checklist of certain details, and so here it is. Except for a lively sequence involving a nasty creature called a Boggart, nothing in the film is memorable in a good way.
Memorable in a bad way, though, is Jeff Bridges. Egads, how was he permitted to play this character in such a broad, unappealing, cartoonish fashion? Stark realism wasn’t called for, obviously, but the other actors are at least trying to play real characters. Bridges is doing his own thing — a farce in the middle of a melodrama. Julianne Moore, camping it up as a witch-dragon, should be embarrassed, too, of course, but she’s a model of restraint compared to Bridges’ excruciating braying. Really, everyone involved needs to sit quietly and think about what they’ve done. Then let us never speak of it again.
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