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Review: Seventh Son (2015)

Seventh Son (2015)

Directed by: Sergey Bodrov

Premise: Based on the novel The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney. A fantasy adventure in which a young man (Ben Barnes) begins an apprenticeship under a knight (Jeff Bridges) and learns to fight evil spirits.

What Works: At its best, Seventh Son recalls the films of Britain’s Hammer studio such as Countess Dracula and The Devil Rides Out and it includes nods to other gothic horror movies of that period such as Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. A lot of contemporary fantasy films suffer from an overabundance of computer generated visuals. Seventh Son has its share of digital effects but like the earlier films that it invokes, the movie has some restraint and the sets and costumes maintain a lived-in and organic look. At its start, Seventh Son is a movie about heroic male witch hunters who trap and destroy mostly female evil-doers. However, the movie complicates the gender politics and injects a little sophistication into the relationship between the witches and the witch hunters.

What Doesn’t: Seventh Son is another attempt to adapt a young adult fantasy series into a movie franchise and this is yet another failure but it’s a perplexing one. There is a glut of fantasy titles that offer plenty of examples for how to do a movie like this and yet it seems as though the filmmakers of Seventh Son had no idea what they were doing. Movies of this sort, in which a chosen one realizes his destiny and goes from apprentice to adept, are really stories about growing up. Successful versions of this story—such as the original Star Wars and the Harry Potter series—deliver adventure but also give the hero moments in which he faces and overcomes crises, loses his innocence, and assumes adult responsibilities. Seventh Son has none of that. The problem of the movie is in its very title. According to the mythology of the story, the seventh son of a seventh son is supposed to be gifted and destined for greatness but there’s nothing special about the hero, played by Ben Barnes. That isn’t just an inference based upon the evidence on screen; the master, played by Jeff Bridges, repeatedly comments that his new apprentice is useless. It’s a strange storytelling failure. The older man takes on this boy as a trainee but he never bothers to actually teach him anything. There aren’t any moments in which the knight-to-be has to prove himself and so there is no progression of character or story. That is the other major failure of Seventh Son. Action sequences are doled out on a regular basis but they don’t accomplish anything. Monsters periodically show up and the heroes fight them but they don’t learn anything and nothing in the story gets advanced. The bulk of Seventh Son is just filler until the heroes and the villains get to their inevitable showdown but when that finally happens nothing is at stake and nothing is won, lost, or affirmed. On top of all of those basic storytelling problems, Seventh Son features some awful performances. Ben Barnes is cast in the titular role; characters usually have at least one defining trait that sums up who they are but Barnes’ character has nothing. Jeff Bridges plays the master to Barnes’ apprentice and he mumbles his way through the movie but Bridges is not nearly as bad as Julianne Moore as the evil witch queen. Moore is usually a reliable actress but when she hams it up the performance comes across like a parody of Eva Green. The actors are done no favors by dialogue that ranges between hokey and cliché. The characters speak in meaningless fantasy jargon about duty and destiny that has nothing to do with what is actually going on around them. The cumulative effect of the lousy storytelling and bad acting is a movie that is really boring. Seventh Son runs less than two hours but it feels longer than The Hobbit.

Bottom Line: Seventh Son joins Eragon, The Golden Compass, The Mortal Instruments, and Beautiful Creatures on the list of disastrous fantasy films that ended their series before it even got started.

Episode: #530 (February 22, 2015)