October 23, 2015
“Be warned brothers, there is no going back or there is nothing to go back to!”
Thus ends the opening speech that delivers an idea of just what the long-bearded, fur-clothed men are doing out in the snow as they enter the trunk of an oversized tree in the first scene of Lionsgate’s new film, The Last Witch Hunter. If only the passion and energy injected into that speech carried through the entire film.
Every year as Halloween approaches, movies with ghostly themes hit theaters and audiences seek bone-chilling films to get in the mood for the season. The Last Witch Hunter, opening October 23rd, attempts to feed the frenzy as a movie that’s not technically a horror movie and not actually a basic action flick either. It’s a hybrid. Rated PG-13, it gives parents a chance to be cool and take their tweenish kids to a scary movie before Halloween, and gore-weary adults an opportunity to see something with the name “witch” in the title to keep a little bit of street cred.
It’s clear from the beginning that the premise of the film is familiar. Witches exist. The evil kind. People who hunt witches also play a part. The survival of the human race is at stake. The only thing standing in the way of the complete annihilation of the world as we know it is The Last Witch Hunter. Enter Kaulder, played by Vin Diesel.
As far as acting chops go, Vin Diesel may not be the top pick for Best Actor in a Drama when its time to pass out shiny golden awards each year, but when its time to protect the earth from creepy unnatural beings that want all humans dead, Diesel is a great candidate for the job. After all, he has a diverse set of skills that he’s honed throughout his career. Think about it — add up all of his characters. He can drive fast. No, like, really fast. Proved it seven times. He’s displayed his compassion by using his military training to protect a widow and her four kids, even strapping on a baby in a backpack to get the job done right. And then there’s his earliest mainstream big screen role in Saving Private Ryan, a role created specifically for him by Steven Spielberg. Diesel has been protecting other people, deep in life-threatening action, since 1997. Protecting the earth from some measly witches should be a breeze.
The cast joining Diesel also boast impressive experience in battles and twisted interactions with weird fantastical beings that want them dead. Elijah Wood (“Lord of the Rings”) and Rose Leslie (“Game of Thrones”) play strong supporting roles in the film and are no strangers to the world of witches and supernatural events. Michael Caine is also along for the ride. They’re natural fits for a movie titled The Last Witch Hunter, and certainly have the talent necessary to make it a film worth watching, one would expect.
Expectations don’t always align with reality, and often that’s okay. Sometimes films take audiences out of their comfort zones and on a whirlwind tour of entirely unexpected galaxies or storylines unfold in ways that blow our minds.
In the case of The Last Witch Hunter, the premise and the cast are in place to take us on a great journey. Execution, though. Execution is an entirely different monster.
The story starts in the past, offering up clues about what a witch hunter was and how they operated. Their ultimate nemesis, Witch Queen, is also revealed. She places an immortality curse on Kaulder and off we go.
Quickly jumping to the present, we discover that Kaulder is the sole remaining witch hunter, after eight centuries of immortality. Not really sure why he’s the only witch hunter left. It seems like 800 years is plenty of time to train an apprentice or an army of witch hunters. More details would be nice.
As Kaulder and Dolan 36th (Caine) discuss the times they’ve spent together, and shoot the breeze, we learn that it is the Dolan’s job to be the witch hunter’s handler, historian and friend. It’s time for Dolan 36th to retire, so Dolan 37th (Wood) will be coming along to take his place the next day. Everything is sure to go smoothly.
Of course, this is the point when all hell starts to break loose. Yes, there are witches and spells, potions and creepy moments — everything necessary for a horrifying tale of an underworld and secret witchcraft. Maybe that’s what keeps the film from being as entertaining as it could be: it has all of the necessary basics, nothing more. The story starts to fall apart as it travels down a path of ordinary dialogue, one-liners that fall just short of snappy, and action that lacks surprise or intriguing twists. Battles rage, witches take sides, love blossoms. But nothing seems to quite hit the mark or grab the sort of attention it seeks within the film.
The Last Witch Hunter isn’t a complete loss. The supporting cast delivers solid performances and bridges the gaps when Diesel’s delivery doesn’t land as planned. And the visual effects are certainly on point. But lack of cohesiveness and strong story hold the basic premise back from reaching its full potential.
Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5