The Seventh Son is the bi-product of the success of the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as studios scrambled to find a new successful franchise, and how does one go about making a new fantasy film franchise? Well the first thing you need is a popular book series, one that has enough entries to ensure several films. Do you need to actually follow the source material? Of course not, because getting the fans of the books pissed off at you is half the fun.
This movie is based on “The Spook’s Apprentice” by English author Joseph Delaney, and it’s the first part of “The Wardstone Chronicles” and aside from name dropping of characters from the book this movie bears little resemblance to the source material. Guaranteed sure fire hit…right?
The film opens with Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), a knight of the order of Spooks, imprisoning the evil witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) inside a nasty pit. It is important to note that both the movie and the North American release of the book The Spook’s Apprentice changed the title because of the derogatory historical nature of the word “spook” knowing it would not fly on this side of the pond, but for some reason the filmmakers decided to keep the name in the script which resulted in me cringing every time someone called Jeff Bridges a spook.
We flash forward a couple of decades to find Master Gregory getting drunk at a local tavern, but his libations are interrupted by his apprentice Mr. Bradley (Kit Harrington), who informs his master that a young girl is possessed and needs their help. Because Gregory is a drunken asshat he ignores his apprentice, and continues to drink. A soldier is offended by Gregory’s callous behavior, and tries to intervene, but even drunk Gregory is a badass fighter and completely humiliates the soldier. Just when we are wondering who is supposed to be the hero of this film the church bells ring out, which apparently means that a spook is required, and Gregory must answer the call. So exactly what was the point of Gregory beating up a random soldier whose sole crime was in wanting Gregory to do his bloody job?
Gregory and Jon Snow…I mean Mr. Bradley, head to the local church to find a young girl chained to the baptismal font, where we find out that a young lass has been possessed by Mother Malkin, who had escaped due to the rising Blood Moon because it increases her evil powers, or some such nonsense. Gregory doesn’t seem to have much trouble exorcising Malkin from the girl, but when the witch turns into a dragon things get a bit dicier.
They manage to trap Malkin in an iron cage, but sadly she is able to pull poor Mr. Bradley in with her, and Gregory is forced to burn them both. Even worse is that this completely fails to kill Mother Malkin, who then bursts out of the burning cage in full dragon glory. We later learn that Gregory has had several apprentices over the years, and that they are all dead. So not only is Master Gregory a drunken jerk he’s also bad at his job. Of course Gregory doesn’t blame himself, he just needs better apprentices, so he decides to find the seventh son of a seventh son, as they are apparently super powerful.
Master Gregory pays a bag of gold for Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), whose family doesn’t seem to have any qualms about letting their son run off with a man whose track record with apprentices is quite terrible. Tom’s mom (Olivia Williams) does give her son a mysterious pendant, that one assumes will turn out to be useful, but is really just a stupid MacGuffin for the heroes and villains to squabble over.
So this is the time when we’d normally get the master/apprentice training sequence, but instead of a montage of months or years of training poor Tom, that would prepare our young protagonist to the dangers ahead, the kid finds out they have a week to stop Mother Malkin, even though the previous apprentices, who had around ten years of training each, are all dead. So Gregory is really banking on this whole “seventh son” thing working out, which makes one wonder why he went with anything else in the past. I’m assuming the seventh son of a seventh son has got to be rare, but Gregory found one within about five minutes of looking, so certainly didn’t look too hard. Gregory takes young Tom to a nearby city to get supplies, and this is one of your typical medieval/fantasy cities that could not economically survive, as it’s plopped down on a barren rocky peninsula in the middle of a wasteland, with no signs of any type of agriculture that could support the populace. It’s a cool visual but makes no logical sense.
It’s while wandering this logistical wonder of a city that Tom runs into Alice (Alicia Vikander), who is this film’s love interest, and who is in danger of being burned as a witch by the local mob. Tom informs the mob that he is an apprentice to a spook, and that he will take care of the witch. The mob hands her over to Tom, and then they just mosey off, opposed to wanting to hang around and watch the spook kill a witch, as one would think angry mobs are want to do. Maybe the town is suffering under some kind of ennui spell?
The reason for Tom’s intervention is that Alice is a girl from one of his visions – yes he has visions, just go with it – and I myself would not have needed supernatural visions to make me want to rescue a girl from an angry mob, but what is most interesting is that Alice actually is a witch. Her mother is Bony Lizzie (Antje Traue), a notorious witch and sister to Mother Malkin. Now this is the kind of thing that bothered me in the Nicholas Cage film Season of the Witch, where you have people trying to burn witches who are actually witches. Now as we live in enlightened times we look back at these people as ignorant assholes, people who justified murder by accusing their neighbors of witchcraft, but in the universe of this movie there are witches, and most of them really deserve a good burning. Sure, it turns out that Alice is not an evil witch like Malkin, but she is in league with them so you can’t really blame the mob for wanting her dead. A film that makes me sympathize with witch burners has made a drastic misstep.
The rest of the movie is your typical fantasy road picture, where Gregory and Tom will encounter various monsters and witches until we get the final showdown with Mother Malkin. Director Sergey Bodrov has assembled quite the good cast for his movie, but most of them are either phoning it in or going over the top. I’m not sure what Jeff Bridges was going for here as his Master Gregory, as not only is he completely unlikable but he gives him a voice that is a cross between his Rooster Cogburn from the remake of True Grit and Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s laughably bad. Ben Barnes is so bland throughout the films running time that all one can think of is how much better it would have been if Kit Harrington hadn’t died at the beginning of the film. Julianne Moore is swinging for the fences in her portrayal of the evil Mother Malkin, and she is beyond cartoonish. Speaking of cartoonish, most of the movies visual effects are of course CGI, which range from bad to almost decent.
As I mentioned before this movie is based on a popular book series, but pretty much everything but the names were changed; in the book Tom Ward is a twelve year old, and Mother Malkin doesn’t escape her imprisonment because of any Blood Moon, she tricks young Tom into letting her out. Tom does not save Alice from a mob but actually the other way around, she saves him from a group of bullies. I’m not saying that sticking with the book more closely would have resulted in a better movie, but it certainly would have been a more interesting than the one we got. For most of the film’s 102 minute running time you just have to grin and bear it.
This was a box office bomb that surprised no one, and the first warnings of how bad it was going to be was in the fact that its release date kept getting being pushed back, which is never a good sign, and then the final result slipped in and out of theatres with barely a ripple. So I can safely say we are in no danger of this franchise taking off.
Movie Rank - 4/10
This is not the Big Lebowski reunion we wanted between Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore nor is it a very good fantasy adventure film for fans of the genre. Basically this movie is only for the morbidly curious.