Seventh Son – Christian Movie Review
The film’s plot: The last remaining Spook, a knight named Gregory (Jeff Bridges) who hunts demons and witches for a living, discovers that the most deadly, wicked witch in the land, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), has escaped her prison. Gregory has until the blood red moon waxes full to train a new apprentice, the seventh son of a seventh son named Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), to help him defeat Mother Malkin before the full moon’s power makes her unstoppable. One problem, however: Tom Ward has fallen in love with a half-witch named Alice (Alicia Vikander) who happens to be a spy for Mother Malkin.
Critics are slaying this film without mercy. The fantasy epic genre is probably one of the hardest genres to succeed in, unfortunately, and this film is a classic example of a story that’s booed if it does and booed if it doesn’t: it has a nice short length (1 hour 42 minutes), but this doesn’t give it much time to make you care about any of the characters; critics didn’t like that. Yet, if it had gone the Lord of the Rings length (three hours), critics would have complained about that too, I’m guessing.
Like I said: slain if you do; slain if you don’t — at the hands of those sword-wielding, merciless critics. (However, some of their criticisms do ring true, I’m afraid.)
More on all of that — including the film’s worldview(s) and any themes of redemption — in a moment. First…
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: Most of the women show a great deal of cleavage. One young woman bathes in a lake dressed in a corset. Two unmarried characters kiss passionately, and they’re seen lying together in the next scene, but clothed as they were in the previous scene (so sex isn’t necessarily implied).
Violence/Gore: PG-13 fantasy violence, including lots of sword slashes and characters impaled. When witches die, they burn up, and we see their skin disintegrate. Mother Malkin uses her claws on her fingers to puncture people’s throats and kill them. She uses her barbed tale to impale a character, who then disintegrates into ash. We see dragon-like creatures chomping down on soldiers, throwing them, and chewing on them. Characters are burned.
Language: One prominent f-word, a smattering of other milder obscenities (mostly the h-word and d-word).
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: The main character, Gregory, is drinking most of the time from a flask he carries with him — sort of a alcoholic knight who uses his flask to soothe his body from all the physical pain of battle and to soothe his mind from all the baggage he carries from his complicated past. His drinking is used almost entirely for comedic effect.
Frightening/Intense Content: Several skeletons and ghosts with decomposed bodies are seen.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Jeff Bridges is always a fascinating actor to watch. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter what role it is, he just has an interesting way with his acting style that brings his characters to life on-screen. His portrayal of the eccentric, virtuous but jaded demon-slayer knight with a drinking problem reminds me of his “True Grit” character, complete with a peculiar but somehow hypnotizing accent with some cynical Tom Waits and a little bit of Ian-McKellan-as-Gandalf thrown in.
And, wow, this film has an all-star cast if I’ve ever seen one: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes (who, speaking of fantasy films, played Prince Caspian in “Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” in 2008), the rising star Alicia Vikander (“Anna Karenina,” “Pure”), Djimon Hounsou (“Amistad,” “Gladiator,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”), Olivia Williams (“The Sixth Sense,” “The Ghost Writer,”) and other great talents.
But the script just doesn’t bring enough meat for this fantastic cast to chew on. The plot telegraphs very common fantasy story ideas so that you see most of them coming long before they arrive.
Some scenes feel like a Monty Python moment, like when the villagers in their standard Renaissance Fair costumes drag an accused witch to the stake; and one of the villagers has a pitch fork! He actually is carrying a pitch fork!
The filmmakers could have capitalized on that tone and re-written the script to be something much more intentionally comedic. With such fantastic actors, they could have handled the balance of drama/comedy if the writers had made it into something more bombastically fun and intentionally silly, with all the gripping scenes of action, fighting, and special effects retained.
But I assume that doing that would not have kept the film true to the book upon which it is based — “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” — which, from what I’ve read, is a serious drama story (and very well-written too, apparently) in a serious fantasy world.
The film also rushes frantically through much of its exposition, which forces some of the exposition to be awkwardly stated in dialogue to save time. It makes it hard to connect with the characters — though the superb actors make up plenty of lost ground.
I won’t say I wasn’t entertained. I enjoyed Bridges and the other actors — and he actually had some great lines of dialogue in a few places — and it was fun to see Ben Barnes in another fantasy role. It was a fun escape, especially after the first act.
Worldview and Themes of Redemption
(Mild Spoilers Below)
In the “Seventh Son” universe, witchcraft is amoral. There are good witches and bad witches, but the practice itself is only evil if the person using it is evil. The knight Gregory, however, sees all witches as bad. He eventually is forced to change his viewpoint (won’t say how or why to avoid major spoilers), which enforces the amoral framing of witchcraft portrayed throughout the film. It’s not unlike The Force in the Star Wars universe, with the Dark Side and the Light. In both cases, there’s an Eastern influence: in the Chinese concept of yin and yang, for example, the universe is composed of light and dark, and though contrary, they’re interdependent and complementary. This interdependence, and its amoral view of good and evil, bears some resemblance to the film. You might even say it is symbolized in the relationship between the protagonist (Gregory) and the antagonist (Mother Malkin).
To be cautious in my language, however, I am not necessarily saying that this film has a fully developed philosophy or worldview to it. It mostly hints at things here and there, and it borrows from both Christian and pagan (i.e. possibly something similar to a Wiccan tone, in this case) terminology at will to create a world where a knight fights to protect the innocent from The Dark — all in vague, general terms. The Dark is categorized by Gregory almost like a zoologist would categorize a species, and, in his book, witches are at the top of the dark and deadly list.
However, within this frame of context, there are clear efforts from Gregory and Tom Ward to fight for the innocent, risk their lives to save others, and show mercy to others, even to their enemies. Likewise, some of the witches show mercy to Gregory and Tom, and one of the witches even fights to save the lives of innocent villagers under attack.
Despite the weaknesses of the script, this film has a stellar cast, a fun (and in some shots very beautiful) Medieval England-like setting, and solid special effects that will be enough to entertain an audience and provide an hour and 42 minutes of escape.
However, some Christian moviegoers might be too distracted by its somewhat amoral depiction of witchcraft to really get into it.
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