Review – Seventh Son
It’s actually kind of amazing that a movie so full of individually awesome moments can be as insultingly, unforgivably terrible as Seventh Son. It’s kind of impressive, even. You need to really commit to awfulness in order to undermine something as inherently cool as two dragons fighting to the death, say, or the hero riding a troll over the edge of a waterfall. There’s a different orc-ish dude with tusks who fights using wrestling manoeuvres, a witch who turns into a bear, another who turns into a leopard, and even a four-armed Shiva-style swordsman. Somehow, they’re all boring.
These things do look nice, though. The art department probably got a few collective slaps on the back, and someone evidently threw a lot of money at Seventh Son to facilitate the transition from paper to screen. But there’s no life in these visuals, no heart beating beneath the gloss; they’re artlessly structured, frequently stupid, and strung haphazardly together along a ninety-minute scenic tour of mediocrity.
That transition took a while, too, a lot longer than a movie of this quality deserves. It’s evident early, when Kit Harington (Jon Snow in HBO’s Game of Thrones) is summarily immolated in the first ten minutes. You’d assume, if Seventh Son was a better or at least smarter movie, that this is some kind of subversive cinematic rug-pulling, rather than simply the casting of a (at the time) nobody actor in a nothing role. Harington built his career while Seventh Son was sat on a shelf somewhere. Here, he’s shunted aside in favour of Ben Barnes, a black-hole charisma-trap of an actor who, for the record, looks every single day of his 33 years – odd, considering that this is yet another movie based on a series of young-adult novels, and the hero in those is 12 (which is, incidentally, the sole age at which Seventh Son both starts and stops being appealing).
Barnes plays Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son, who, thanks to his mathematically-convenient lineage, is roped into being the new apprentice of Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) – a “Spook”, which as far as I can tell is the nickname for an ancient order of demon/dragon/witch hunters who’ve been pretty much wiped out over the years. They’re particularly useful during the once-a-century Blood Moon – a menstruating solar eclipse which, for reasons unknown to me, gives all the world’s beasties some kind of increased power. Nobody really seems to be clear on it, but nonetheless there’s another Blood Moon due in a week or so, and because Master Greg’s apprentices keep dying (Harington being the most recent of a fair few), he needs a new intern on the double.
Bridges is putting on a bizarre voice for Greg, like a slurring, alcoholic Bane, and he delivers all of his lines in a mumbled torrent. It’s baffling, and in no way improved by the sheer absurdity of his dialogue; at one point, he’s trotting up some stairs, and spits over his shoulder, “There are witches that need killing. F*****g witches.” I don’t recall hearing any of the other characters swear at all, so I just like to assume that Bridges was drinking as much on set as he is in the movie and ad-libbed it for his own (and my) amusement.
Most of the dialogue isn’t quite as startlingly discordant as that, but it’s still garbage. Characters may as well have just doled out their expository lines and simply described whatever emotion they were supposed to be conveying, like the f*****g elcor. Barnes is such a nonentity that he inhales what little personality there is in some of the more oddball moments and just belches it into thin air; he’s a slightly more handsome Kirby. Julianne Moore is okay as Mother Malkin, the villain, primarily because she brings proceedings tantalizingly close to enjoyably trashy camp nonsense – “I like your shoes”, she mutters to a potential victim at one point. Why, I like your dragon tail, Mother Malkin, perhaps you could wrap it around Ben Barnes’s throat?
That might not be entirely fair. Barnes is obviously a breath-taking nonentity, but admittedly Seventh Son doesn’t really give him much to work with. There’s nothing offensive about the story itself – it’s a typical “Chosen One” fantasy narrative, which hits the expected genre beats and even sprinkles in some unusual ingredients. But a slight hour and a half is an incredibly short sit for this kind of thing, and Seventh Son just doesn’t stick around long enough to plumb anything interesting out of its setting or accompanying mythology. Dante Feretti’s production design certainly isn’t bad; it’s rich enough to be aesthetically interesting while remaining physically plausible, and there’s probably a rich history and deftly-woven tapestry of lore buried in the literary version of this hokum. There certainly isn’t in the film, though.
It does seem that Seventh Son managed to swallow a jewel at some point during its ravenous production, and she survived the lengthy digestion process intact enough that her light still glimmers even amid all the steaming s**t surrounding it. Her name is Alicia Vikander, a Swedish actress with more fiery charisma in her little finger than this nonsense deserves. She’s good enough that she even breathes some semblance of life into Barnes, and it genuinely pains me that the one YA novel adaptation which doesn’t put the conflicted female character at its centre is the only one starring her.
Vikander’s is the sole character in the story who isn’t just a cut-and-dry genre staple; she’s half-witch, and the daughter of one of Mother Malkin’s top lieutenants, but she’s also in love with Tom. For a while it seems like there might actually be some drama in that. Will her new-found love and inherent sense of right and wrong overpower her familial allegiances? Or will Gregory’s rampant obsession with murdering any witch he sees on principle force her back into the arms of Malkin? Unfortunately, Seventh Son isn’t interested in any of this, so the relationship between Tom and Alice (I can’t be bothered looking it up, but I’m pretty sure she’s called Alice) is relegated to an underdeveloped sub-plot which only ever comes up whenever there isn’t room for more CGI shenanigans. It, like the plotting and world-building, is another victim of the limited running time, and when the movie puts its head down and begins its wild sprint to the FX-fuelled finish line, we’re forced to focus on that and just accept a hasty, franchise-ready partial conclusion afterwards.
It seems as though I wanted more of Seventh Son, but that isn’t right. I wanted more of a different, better version of Seventh Son, one that took all the cool bits and potentially interesting character dynamics and actually made them matter. As it stands, if it wasn’t for Bridges’ hilarious overacting and Vikander’s genuinely sincere turn, there’d be absolutely nothing noteworthy about this movie at all. And really, that’s unforgivable. Even someone with a disposition as sunny as mine can’t make excuses for such shallow, thoughtless, disposable s***e.
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