What were the odds that a few weeks before the Academy Awards telecast this year the Best Actor and Best Actress winners would each star in a universally reviled science-fiction/fantasy film? Was it mere providence, or perhaps the fates conspiring to hamstring their chances to take home Oscar gold by giving voters a chance to see them scenery chew as dastardly villains in financially risky films their respective studios probably had second thoughts about releasing? Of course I’m referring to Eddie Redmayne’s much ballyhooed and over-the-top performance in The Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending and Julianne Moore’s far more reigned-in turn as witch Mother Malkin in Russian filmmaker Sergey Bodrov’s attempt at a Hollywood blockbuster, Seventh Son, two films which place the winners for The Theory Of Everything and Still Alice in a rather unconventional and dubious spotlight. Although I’m in the minority, Jupiter Ascending‘s success from an artistic standpoint is bolstered by Redmayne’s ravenous performance as intergalactic nemesis to Mila Kunis’ Jupiter. Seventh Son, however, is not so lucky, trading in every opportunity for originality and imagination for the same old boring story only marginally improved by Moore’s presence, the simple fact of her presence proving far more impressive than the latitude Bodrov affords her to actually act.
But Moore is not the only thespian along for the ride here. Jeff Bridges delights as Master Gregory, an aging “spook” and witch hunter who seeks a young apprentice to help destroy the escaped evil witch he imprisoned many years ago. Quickly following The Giver and R.I.P.D. on his resumé, I can only assume Bridges is trapped in some sort of post-Oscar self-humbling rite of passage where balance must be restored to cinema by starring in a string of terrible movies. As bad as Seventh Son is, however, Bridges remains a ray of light, investing himself with dedicated mannerisms and a thick accent to such an extent that even if you find yourself laughing at the film, it ends up being with him instead of at him. Despite their limitations by screenwriters Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight (surprisingly, the writer/director of last year’s beguiling Locke), and a puzzling running time of just over ninety minutes, Bridges and Moore are never boring to say the least, and they do what they can to elevate all the other tired, rote proceedings.
Seventh Son fits neatly into the recent trend of cheap-o gothic adventure films, like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, I, Frankenstein, and Dracula Untold, none of which are very good, and some of which are just awful. Seventh Son is somewhere in the middle, boasting entertaining special effects, humorous supporting characters, and a decent rhythm, but aside from its horrible script, lead actor Ben Barnes is dreadful as Tom Ward, the titular character who is drawn reluctantly into a battle to save mankind, and through whose eyes the audience is supposed to be introduced to his world. His wooden performance is so straight-laced, and contradictory to the successful elements of Bodrov’s film that it tries in vain to ground things in a reality that is just not there, and with the constant dead weight gravity of Barnes pulling it down, it just draws attention to its sheer lack of internal logic. It’s a shame, because there are moments in Seventh Son that are rousing, and Bridges and Moore genuinely seem to want to be a part of them. Unfortunately their antics are unable to elevate its obvious, by-the-numbers screenplay above the pedestrian constraints of lowest common denominator box office appeal, leaving yet another empty quest film with no real point of entry for the audience to invest in the story.
The Verdict: Pan