Behold the power of low expectations.

Every so often a stinker of a movie earns a 10% rating over at Rotten Tomatoes. And those are the really bad ones. The Last Airbender (my pick for the worst movie of 2010) is even worse, weighing in with a paltry 7% rating.

Season of the Witch (as press time) is at 1%. As in ‘one’. Eek.

While seeing it is admittedly a rather dubious way to start the new year, I can name no fewer than ten movies (from the last six months alone) that I liked less. A lot less.

Set in the 1300s, Season of the Witch stars Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as buddy knights, who, after a dozen years of fighting and killing side-by-side in the Crusades, decide enough is enough. It seems that slaughtering thousands and thousands of men is a-okay, but when you accidentally kill one woman, well… it’s time to pack it in.

So they wander the countryside of Medieval Europe (really, it’s a rather picturesque Austria and Hungary) and trip on an ancient town that has fallen victim to The Plague. The two knights, Behman (Cage) and Felson (Perlman), are arrested as deserters but are given a chance to have their names cleared, provided they transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to a faraway monastery, where she will be tried. Of course it’s hoped (make that ‘ordained’) that she will be found guilty and executed, and then The Plague will go away.

But since it’s never that easy, we’re meant to wonder if this poor, waifish little girl is really a witch after all. She’s taken quite a beating at the hands of a local priest named Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), and she continues to plead for pity from Behman and Felson. And thus, the road trip to the monastery begins, with a baby-faced knight-wannabee, a swindler/guide, and another knight also along for the ride.

Along the way, the men start getting picked off one-by-one –first by a freakish accident and then by wolves– and the suspense (yes, there really is some) begins to build. The longer the journey lasts, the more trouble the road-trippers get into. All the while, their world is getting more and more damp, dark, and cold, and more and more questions are arising about who (or what) this girl really is. There’s actually a decent story at work here, and there’s plenty of entertainment along the way– couple chills, a couple laughs, and enough action to propel the movie toward its conclusion.

That being said, by the time we reach the end, ready for a big payoff, we instead get the weakest part of whole thing. Though there is a pretty nice twist involved, you may find yourself chuckling (unintentionally) at one scene in particular. It’s not enough to spoil all that came before, but it does leave a bit of a bad taste.

If only director Dominic Sena (Whiteout) hadn’t tried so hard to make a horror-ish, supernatural film out of what could have been a rather fun project. As it is, Season of the Witch is just too serious for its own good. The script by first-timer Bragi Schut is a perplexing mix of medieval and contemporary; Perlman throws out bonmots like, “As dungeons go, this one’s not so bad,” while just moments later, someone else is spouting, “This damn fog is like a veil before my eyes.” Had Season of the Witch gone more toward Army of Darkness and not Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (its supposed inspiration), we may have all been a little better for it.

As it is, it’s honestly not terrible. And it’s a looong way from the idiocy that was The Last Airbender. Does it merit its 1%? Not even close. 20% (or maybe even 30%) seems a little more like it.

2/5 stars