Centuries ago, a spook named Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) defeated and captured a spiteful witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). But the years of captivity have turned her all the more vengeful and she manages to escape the spook’s clutches. Gregory – now the last of the Falcon Knights – finds Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), the seventh son of the seventh son, who he takes on as his new apprentice. Do the two return to a triumphant victory or does Mother Malkin avenge the world and destroy it?
Based on a story titled ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’ from the dark-fantasy novel series The Wardstone Chronicles, written by British author Joseph Delaney, you can see why Legendary Pictures would have believed they started off on the right foot with this film. A revered director in Russia, Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains, Mongol), two Oscar winning actors, Bridges and Moore, with a plot full of mystical creatures, witches, vengeance and power-battles – quite a winning concoction. The film boasts of an impressive production design and commendable sound editing. Composer Marco Beltrami is worthy of some praise for causing a few startles among the audience; the background score helps build the tension at many places, for instance, when Mother Malkin gets hold of Billy just as she is about to get trapped again or when Tom encounters a ghost in the woods. Sadly, none of these elements manage to redeem the characters or even the story.
Seventh Son is like a clueless teenager who thinks he has put together all the tried and tested methods for success, wanders off aimlessly at times and lacks focus, but looks good. There is nothing new about a knight trying to ward off evil by capturing a witch or demon. The film lacks conviction and it seems like an outright effort to salvage the script using special effects.
You are left asking ‘why?’ in numerous moments: Why would a boy simply leave with a grumpy old man on an unknown ‘mission’, why would he be willing to fight evil without even being trained enough, why would a master leave his apprentice to fend for himself right after winning a crucial war…You know there’s a problem when logic prevails while watching a fantasy film.
Jeff Bridges fails to convince as a seasoned warlord. In fact, he is barely legible in most places. A graveyard scene that sees him tell Tom about the death of his late wife is completely lost among Bridges’ rushed and barely audible performance. Ben Barnes needs to shake off his Prince Caspian character now. Unlike a determined crusader, he appears indifferent and smug. His random sarcastic remarks don’t do much good either. Barnes’ chemistry with Alicia Vikander (Alice) is lack-lustre. Julianne Moore is a beautiful and talented actress, but she struggles to convince as a malevolent witch intending to annihilate humanity. A useful cue here would have been Meryl Streep in Into The Woods, which saw the actress beautifully portray a nasty old witch with much élan.
One of the major reasons of why Seventh Son fails to impress comes down to the lack of character-building. The witch – evil, the spook – good, the apprentice – coming of age; all you need to do is a simple ‘match the typical traits’ and you have a character in this film. You barely know them, so you couldn’t care less about them.
Yet, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel deserves a special mention. The long camera shots are brilliant, his photography goes some way in capturing the audience. The VFX, of which the film is unfortunately reliant, are still gripping and the 3D does make it all the more life-like. The waterfall sequence or Gregory and Billy’s battle against Mother Malkin are some standouts.
In a nutshell, Seventh Son is a predictable film with an abrupt climax. Fluff alone cannot save a fantasy film. At the very least, a strong storyline and plausible characters is needed. It’s unfortunate that a potentially good film was marred by a rushed screenplay and average performances.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10