Film Review | Seventh Son

It doesn't have an original bone in its draconian, CGI-encrusted body, but this swords-and-sorcery romp should go down a treat with undemanding fans of the genre, as well as kids. 

Dude, where's my witch? Jeff Bridges (right) will unleash Ben Barnes on his former Big Lebowski cast-mate Julianne Moore
Dude, where's my witch? Jeff Bridges (right) will unleash Ben Barnes on his former Big Lebowski cast-mate Julianne Moore

Any film that announces itself with the lines, “My power returns with the rise of the blood moon,” is bound to be cheesier than a buffet fondue, and Seventh Son certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front, making good on its promise to deliver an over the top swords-and-sorcery romp that parties like it’s 1985 – tapping the same vein that gave us the likes of Willow (1988) and Ladyhawke (1985), and conveniently forgetting how Peter Jackson raised the bar for the genre with The Lord of the Rings adaptations in the early noughties.

But now that Jackson himself has dropped the ball with overstretched, overindulgent and messy Hobbit prequels, and given how sleek but soulless reboots and comic book adaptations are the order of the day at the multiplex these days, I ask: is going back in time to the delightfully corny 80s such a bad thing after all?

Based on the first of a series of novels by Joseph Delaney, Seventh Son – not to be confused with the Iron Maiden song of the same name, though it does share that heavy metal band's affinity for fantasy-and-folklore culled grand theatrics – is a tale as old as time, one whose model you will recognize from Star Wars and other ‘hero’ narratives in popular culture before and since.

Lowly peasant Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) is called upon by the grizzled old ‘spook’ John Gregory (Jeff Bridges), a knight-cum-exorcist-cum-wizard, to fulfill his destiny as the ‘seventh son of the seventh son’ – a hereditary line of witch hunters charged with the keeping the – predictably medieval – land safe from supernatural invasion.

In this case, the scourge comes in the form of Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) – a powerful witch who escapes celestial captivity after possessing the body of a child. Vowing revenge on the land, Malkin mobilizes her supporters - among them her sister Bony Lizzie (Antje Traue) and Lizzie’s daughter Alice Deane (Alicia Vikander).


But as Gregory and Tom – accompanied by their trusty ‘abhuman’ sidekick Tusk (John DeSantis) race against time to stop Malkin and her guerrilla army of witches, monsters and ghouls, things get a trifle more personal.

It turns out that Tom has fallen in love with Alice – a reluctant witch with wavering family loyalty – while Gregory is revealed to have had a bit of a history with Malkin herself, one that the dangerous witch may still be too bitter about for comfort.

Seventh Son is a comfortable genre piece that doesn’t have a single original bone in its CGI-infested body, and director Sergei Bodrov (Mongol) plays it safe through and through, marshalling his impressive cast to the predictable tune of a committee-penned screenplay by Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski.

And its fictional world boasts none the immersive detail that made Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s Middle Earth so successful, while neither having the kind of gonzo craziness and baroque excess that made the Wachowski’s recent – and criminally underrated – Jupiter Ascending such a feast for the eyes, if we’re going to mention similar sci-fi/fantasy fare.

But those of you nostalgic for some good old-fashioned swords-and-sorcery action will be well served by this, as will probably any kids you may choose to string along with you.

The trailer made it all look like the kind of Michael Bay-like CGI mess we’ve sadly grown accustomed to, but the end result is thankfully (!) so restricted by its traditional formula that it turns it into an asset. Each step of Tom’s Hero Journey has been telegraphed to us so often by previous films that we can just sit back and enjoy the rag-tag demon hunting duo subdue a bear-man with magic and brawn… and do the same again and again with a motley assortment of other monsters.

Perhaps the benchmark for this sort of thing was begun when Laurence Olivier toga-d up as Zeus in the original Clash of the Titans, but the amount of thespian talent is welcome, and farcically disproportionate to the raison d’etre of the project.

That doesn’t count for everyone, of course: Barnes – who has honed his fantasy chops on Narnia adaptations – is another sign that the film plays it safe, as is the casting of Kit Harrington (Jon Snow himself) in a bit that doesn’t even require him to change from his usual Game of Thrones getup.

But there’s something thrown in for us film geeks too. Other than the fact that Moore and Bridges do entertaining scenery chewing like there’s no tomorrow, a bit of trivia adds to the fun: this is the duo’s first on-screen collaboration since their legendary turns in The Big Lebowski (1998). 

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