Catching Up With The Cage, Part 1: Left Behind and Season of the Witch

Left Behind

This film was approved by Satan.

Now, something interesting. Not the film; the film is deliberately passionless. But the existence of the film? Now that is something worth milling over, and savoring the bouquet. Written by Paul Lalonde and John Patus, and based on the novel of the same name by none other than Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins – Yes, The Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins – Left Behind is not the first adaptation of this very novel. Famously, Kirk Cameron’s absolutely bizarre cottage industry of hair-budgeted Christian conversation-pieces adapted the work in 2000, eventually leading to a proper series of religion-by-way-of-looney-bin pieces of sheer, unmitigated thematic emptiness bolstered by filmmaking of such wanton incompetence that the films almost doubled-back on themselves into intoxicating dare-yourself-to-continue-on heights. Add to this recipe for a walking disaster the divine likes of Nicolas Cage and, I mean hey, who wouldn’t want to see a Nicolas Cage-fronted film about the end of times done-up in Biblical proportions and filled with all sorts of ooey, gooey fire-and-brimstone dialogue for Cage to deliver at the tips of his toes and in the depths of his derangement?

Well, good news! Apparently the filmmakers had another idea in mind, because they seem dead set on not giving any of this to us. As it exists, this version of Left Behind is an indifferently filmed slab of everyday apocalypse that doubles as what may be the single worst airplane thriller ever made. The biggest problem with the film is its insistence of avoiding the bowels of its own social discontent. LaHaye’s book (as I am told, for I have not read it) sounds like Grade-A delirium, high on its repressive worldview and untroubled by any wolves that might lead it astray, or, dare I say it, wrestle its precious human sheep away from blindly observing its systemic destruction of the human spirit. LaHaye may be a fool, but he is fool with conviction, and that is, if worthless as morality, perfect fodder for cinema that exists at the edge of sanity.

This film, meanwhile, doesn’t have a convinced, or convincing, bone in its body. It frankly has the air of self-boredom, and it is much less interested in approaching a point than in flopping around in its own nothingness. Left Behind should foam at the mouth to breed religious torment and righteous indignation. Instead, it is mostly interested in being secure, in hiding itself from the audience. Religion is on the mind, but only passingly and in the frostiest way. There’s just no fire to the film’s idiotic belief system. The fun is in us watching the film try to convince us of the nonsense. Painfully staring on as it vaguely gestures toward nonsense and half-assedly sort-of asks us to be Christian and hushes “oh by the way, our lives would be spared maybe if we were Christian” isn’t fun in the slightest. A preacher sells his stuff, snake oil or not, as a ringleader or a rock star would. They have to believe, or at least, to sell their false belief. Left Behind is the equivalent of a monotone, unmoving preacher reading from a cue card, beset by the pallor of the grave, and, just for the sake of it, he yawns in between every other word. Without all this conviction, we’re left with nothing but a mindlessly incompetent thriller that is saved from actually being fun on any level by the fact that it is not nearly as incompetent as it needs to be.

Still, a few hints sprinkle the material with cotton-candy lemon zest. Some of the early material in an airport has a soap opera goof-ball quality to it, especially the stuff between the air pilot Cage plays dress-up as, his daughter (played by Cassi Thomson), and a hunky journalist (Chad Michael Murray, letting his scruff do most of the talking as he attempts to understand what “hunky journalist”, a duet of words that has never been written before in human history, might actually look like in human form).

Through all this, we feel the touch of god once, and only once. A mid-film exchange involving a mother, who wakes up from in-flight sleep only to discover her daughter is missing, is of almost legendary badness (the plot, by the way, has the “innocent” of the world disappear so that the Rapture can claim the guilty). Waking up to discover her child missing, the mother takes a gun to the other passengers, and then herself (although she doesn’t shoot), and dreams up that her husband, who is not on board mind you, drugged her, found a way to land the plane, stole the child from her, paid a bunch of actors to play all the other parts on the plane to go along with it, and presumably found a bunch of other children actors to leave the plane as well so as to really sell her that all of this wasn’t all just about her kid. This story is A. racist (the women is African-American and in first class, so naturally the film feels the need to note that her husband is a football player, and then that he is clearly an evil father/husband who would wish to drug her and steal away their child) And B. it is a far more passionately delivered, wonderfully silly story – very much the grand ol’ stupid this movie needs – than anything in the film proper. The idiotic worldview is a bummer, but far worse is that it is an idiotic worldview the film can’t even fully commit to.

Score: Why?/10

Season of the Witch

How I wished Dominic Sena’s sword-and-sorcery buddy road movie starring a repressed Nicolas Cage and a vaguely-trying Ron Perlman featured the Donovan song by the same name. Not because the inclusion of this song would have saved the film by any means. Rather, in a best case scenario it might suggest a work of more playful vintage than we might expect, and in the worst, it would provide a mild distraction amidst the doldrums. Barring the inclusion of this song (and what video-gamey, turgid, disgustingly self-important, insistently clamorous “ooohs and aaahs” music it features in its place!), Season of the Witch would have to be one helluva of bad movie to be worth anything. I mean a bad movie from the bad movie gods, a work taking pity on us mere mortals who have grown weary with the commercialization of bad cinema in the past few decades and the arch-competence of even the most vile beasts. After all, we connoisseurs of the worst of cinema-land have nothing to cling to but hope these days. And we can always hope.

Instead, when the title screen pops up a few minutes in, all we get is one lousy “ding”. One ding? From a measly little bell? That’s it? I can understand why it isn’t the Donovan song, but not even, say, a grand choir chant to let us know that the movie at least believes its badness? Or whatever new post-grunge song from the likes of, say, Disturbed, that is all hot-to-trot these days? Certainly, this variety of driveling aural swine would fit the film’s theme, which is, as far as I can tell, “staring on at brown-and-grey, presumably wondering what is for dinner”. Plus, one of those bands has to have a song that at least mentions witches, right? Metal doesn’t have that many topics, so just by process of elimination over the course of an album or two, a band is bound to stumble upon “witches” by accident, or even better, by necessity. Nickelback would do fine, come to think about it. The only thing that does provide real mirth in the film is what it does with Cage’s hair-style, looking here ever-more like it is scared to occupy the same region as his face and is primed and ready to lurch away into a cave and die or something. Goatee in tow, it looks almost exactly like the do of Nickelback’s favorite surfboard simulator, Chad Kroeger. This hair, and that connection to Nickelback, is consistently the only mildly worthwhile part of Season of the Witch as far as bad cinema goes.

My point is simple: Season of the Witch is bad, but it is depressingly, even dumbfoundingly lazy with its badness. I mean, “Nicolas Cage and Hellboy fight witches in the Middle Ages” should really be a great bad movie, but the whole thing is subsumed and suffocated on a morose glumness and a bored, glazed-over look from beginning to end. Rather than “Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman fight witches”, it is more akin to “Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman. Also, witches”. The mind begins to wander amidst the humorless, antiseptic impotence of this tone poem to bros-before-witches. Why, for instance, does the film not even seem interested in the horrors the Church commits against women throughout the witch trials? The governing philosophy here seems to be more akin to “how dare they disturb Cage with their pesky witch hunts, can’t they do it themselves?” I mean, jeez. He could be looking for squirrels, or writing his manuscript, or discovering the secrets of the lost ancients and ascending to a higher plane, for Pete’s sake. Anyone looking for a True Cage Vehicle, or anything, in fact, ought to search elsewhere.

Score: Naaahhh/10

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