Seventh Son, and Hopefully the Last
Review by Daniel Rester
Watching Seventh Son is like watching someone else play a subpar fantasy videogame for 102 minutes. The film, based on Joseph Delaney’s well-praised novel The Spook’s Apprentice, lacks the adventure and depth a good fantasy novel can provide and instead gives the audience repetitive visuals on top of dull storytelling. The whole thing feels like a misfire, and knowing the film was in production hell for a couple of years makes one see a bit as to why. Production hell or not though, the ending result is just disappointing.
The great Jeff Bridges stars as Master Gregory, a witch-hunting knight – or “Spook” – who must go up against a powerful evil spirit named Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). In order to do so, Gregory needs an apprentice who is the seventh son of a seventh son in order to follow tradition. So he finds Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), a farm boy who must leave everything behind and embrace his destiny as a protector of the people.
Seventh Son – written by three screenwriters and directed by Sergey Bodrov – has a terrific film somewhere inside of it, but this isn’t it. With some impressive natural locations, a couple of cool visual effects and action scenes, and a game cast, the film isn’t a complete disaster. But it gets pretty damn close to being one.
Though the cast is likable, everyone is let down by a script with rote storytelling turns, a forced romance, characters who make really dumb decisions, and silly/cringe-worthy dialogue. This results in performances that range from okay to bad to hammy. Bridges would be awesome to see in a more grounded knight film, but here he dons a deep and unbelievable accent while battling one CGI monster after another. Barnes is also a stiff lead, while Moore is way over-the-top as the villain. Then we also get actors like Kit Harington and Djimon Hounsou showing up in brief roles with not much to do.
At the start, Gregory only has one week to train Ward instead of the usual ten years because of some muddled thing having to do with Mother Malkin and a Blood Moon. If that didn’t already feel ridiculous, it’s made worse since Gregory and Ward go on little side adventures – like fighting a big bear and an even bigger troll-like creature – instead of training for their big mission. If you’re going to have the characters waste time, at least have them bond and reveal depth. Not here, save for fleeting moments of conversations.
Director Bodrov moves his cameras and cuts well, but the action on screen is never interesting or exciting. Every set piece basically involves antagonists transforming into creatures while the protagonists either run or swing a sword around. I’m sorry, but the visual effects used in seeing someone transform into a dragon loses its “awe power” when the trick is used over and over again. A few of the designs do open the eyes, but the majority of them are grim and familiar in look and feel.
Seventh Son is trapped somewhere between cartoonish fun and serious action-adventure film, with the tonal shifts just not working very well. It should have just been one or the other and dropped about half of the over-produced CGI. As is, the film is messy on many fronts and not even the watchable cast can really save it.
My Score: 1 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: D).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language).
Runtime: 1 hour and 42 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: February 6th, 2015.