Originally filmed in 2012, “Seventh Son” has had an arduous journey to the big screen. In 2013, Rhythm & Hues, the Oscar-winning effects house responsible for most of the movie’s creatures, went bankrupt, forcing production company Legendary to bail them out just so they could finish their work on this film (they’re okay now). Originally scheduled for release in February of 2013, the movie was pushed back to the following October so that the effects work could be completed, then was shifted again to January 2014. ‘Son” was supposed to be the last project released under Legendary’s deal with Warner Bros., but was then transferred under the umbrella of the company’s new deal with Universal, and will finally be released this weekend. For a while, it looked like “Seventh Son” would never see the light of day, and everyone involved probably thinks that would be the preferable outcome.
Situating itself as a kind of medieval “Men in Black,” “Seventh Son” follows Jeff Bridges‘ John Gregory, colloquially known as “the Spook” (Maybe calling a character a “spook” in 2015 isn’t the best idea?). He is called upon to rid the land of the forces of darkness no matter what form they may take (possessed little girl, unconvincing CGI bear, etc.) or how fearsome they might be. But the Spook needs help. Enter Ben Barnes‘ Tom Ward, who as the seventh son of the seventh son is predestined for such sticky situations. The two set out on an adventure to kill an evil witch queen named Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) who has the power to turn into a dragon and who resides in an impractical volcano lair. Various monsters and ghosts and ghouls pop up along the way. They are vanquished.
Given that logline, one assumes some amount of gee-whiz fun wrung out of this concept, especially with the admirable cast (including the excellent Alicia Vikander as a young witch who falls in love with Tom) under the direction of Sergei Bodrov, who made the tactile historical action movie “Mongol” and works here from a script co-authored by the always-great Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises,” “Locke“). But the material here, based on the series of best-selling novels by Joseph Delaney, is deathly and free of any sort of forward narrative momentum, charm or memorable action set pieces.
Part of the problem is that the fantasy movies of the past several years are starting to blur together. Each employs the same wooded backdrops (either England or Canada), the same baroquely designed creatures, the same muddy digital cinematography, the same wide-angle shots that remain uncluttered to the point of aesthetic vacancy. Sequences from “Seventh Son” could have just as easily been plucked out of “47 Ronin” or “Snow White and the Huntsman” or “Maleficent,” and no one would ever notice. It’s so anonymous, although calling the movie anonymous makes it sound harmless. In fact, “Seventh Son”is actively, aggressively terrible, already a a strong contender to be the worst movie of 2015.
If “Seventh Son” is to be remembered for anything, surely it will be for containing the single most awful, screechy Julianne Moore performance ever. She can transform less-than-inspiring material into something more substantial. When it was announced that she would play a villainous queen, it seemed like a stroke of genius. She would finally be able to ham it up, but given her innate commitment to her craft, she was expected to fashion a memorable character, but…no dice. Her design seems to have been modeled on Anjelica Huston‘s character from “Captain Eo,” with long, talon-like nails and a bizarre, vertebrae-inspired tail that whips around and stabs people in the neck. Her character has beef with her sister and is distrustful of Vikander’s character (also a witch), but you never get a sense of the family dynamics that would lead to this relationship or why you should even care. A good ten minutes of the frightfully busy climax are devoted to Moore and her sister, both in dragon form, wrestling high above the earth. Sounds cool and engaging, right? Wrong.
On a similar note, “Seventh Son” will also be marked as the movie where Bridges’ good ole boy shtick has finally tipped over into self-parody. His laconic drawl and deadpan delivery were perfected in movies like “Crazy Heart” and “True Grit,” but started to wear out its welcome by the time “R.I.P.D.” (a movie that is really similar to “Seventh Son”) rolled around. Here it’s absolutely grating. He mumbles some kind of pseudo-British accent, like he’s got a giant gumball stuffed behind each cheek. Half of the time you can tell he’s trying to say something clever or funny or memorable, but you can’t even make it out. At one point, the Spook says “fucking witches,” which isn’t only anachronistic but muttered off-camera, in a painfully obvious bit of dubbing meant to make something about this DOA project pop.
This film is so misguided that even if Bridges or Moore had decided to give a shit, it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Nothing in “Seventh Son” is compelling, interesting or noteworthy, though you can feel the strain of the filmmakers attempting to set up a potential franchise. There’s no internal logic to the universe, so the endless exposition about the difference between “ghosts” and “ghasts” is not only boring but has no bearing on the narrative whatsoever. Projecting noise and spectacle without any emotional investment or thematic undercurrents, “Seventh Son” winds up being a monstrous dud. This probably would have been the case whenever the film was released, but the fact that it’s creation was such a long, agonizing process just adds insult to injury. No magical spell can fix that. [F]