Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Last Witch Hunter by Sazama & Sharpless and Goodman

I like to go on movie binges. This often involves seeing a movie that doesn't especially interest me in order to bridge the gap between two films I really want to see. In the past this has paid dividends by exposing me to some great movies that I would otherwise have missed. 

And the validity of this approach was proved once again when I saw The Last Witch Hunter.

I'd been subjected to the publicity for this film and it looked flatly ludicrous. The presence of Vin Diesel (whose output has been so hit and miss) didn't help. 

But The Last Witch Hunter was a real surprise. It's fun, smartly conceived, well written and entirely effective. It features great production design by Julie Berghoff, photography by Dean Semler and impressive special effects. It's colourful, fast moving and vivid. Kudos to director Breck Eisner, who most recently did the remake of Romero's The Crazies.
The cast of The Last Witch Hunter is excellent. Besides Diesel, Michael Caine and Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie delivers a smart and appealing performance as an absinthe-drinking British witch, Chloe, who runs a bar. (You will know Leslie from Game of Thrones where she plays Jon Snow's dangerous, freckled squeeze Ygritte.)

I think the key to this film's success is that, despite often being humorous ("What are you scared of?" "Public speaking."), it takes itself seriously. 

It creates its own silly little pulp-fiction world in which Kaulder (Diesel) has been cursed with immortality after slaying an ancient Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht in H.R. Giger style make up). So he roams the world policing the witches who live among us, making sure they toe the line, and if necessary killing those who go rogue.

When off-duty he picks up airline stewardesses and returns to his New York penthouse where he has a sealed walk-in closet full of exotic weapons and enjoys a drink with the latest in the long line of priests who mentor him, the "36th Dolan" (Michael Caine).

As I say, silly pulp stuff, but the film inhabits this world with cleverness, wit and conviction. The excellent script surprised me in that it wasn't based on a comic or computer game. It is an original creation by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless who did the early drafts, with a final re-write by Cory Goodman. 

Now, Sazama & Sharpless (the ampersand is significant) came to my attention last year with Dracula Untold, another fantasy/horror action flick which they wrote and which was way better than I expected. 

As for Goodman, he wrote the script for Priest, starring Paul Bettany, which was also fantasy/horror action. I think I saw it, but I can't remember... 

Normally that would say it all. But The Last Witch Hunter was so good I might give Priest another look.

The Last Witch Hunter is a small, unexpected gem. In its comic book/popcorn-movie it is one of the year's best films.

(Image credits: A vast selection of posters at Imp Awards.)

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