Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Fantasy Violence and Action throughout, Frightening Images and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Sergei Bodrov
Written by: Charles Leavitt & Steven Knight
(based on the novel THE SPOOK’S APPRENTICE by Joseph Delaney)
Starring: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue & Djimon Hounsou
SEVENTH SON is yet another film in a long line of would-be franchise starters adapted from various young adult novels. What separates this YA adaptation from those of recent years is that the source material is actually an eerie medieval fantasy that favors mood, good character development, and disturbing villains over bombastic ADD-pacing and cheap cartoony battles. This cinematic adaptation of SEVENTH SON ignores every possible opportunity for a serious and well-written fantasy flick, while opting for D-level script that feels as if a whole book series was thrown into the space of single film (ala CIRQUE DU FREAK). It should really come as no surprise that SEVENTH SON is such a bad flick as the studio kept this abomination shelved for two years, but I was hoping for a bit of big dumb fun. Unfortunately, this forced fantasy epic is too dull to be fun.
Tom Ward is of a rare group of men. He’s the seventh son of a seventh son and therefore gifted with the ability to fight the supernatural. Raised as a pig farmer, Tom finds his life upended when Master Gregory, the last remaining Spook (keeper of the supernatural), comes calling for his services as an apprentice. A blood moon is fast approaching and the evil Mother Malkin, a powerful witch, is planning to unleash hell on earth. Tom must learn to battle the supernatural, while distinguishing friend from foe. It’s up to this oddly coupled master and apprentice to stop an evil witch and her band of minions.
As soon as SEVENTH SON begins, it seems in a rush to get itself over with. There is little in the way of introduction to each of the characters. We spend a grand total of less than 5 minutes getting to know Tom before his world changes. That’s not exactly a huge complaint as there’s nothing original to be offered here. The screenplay reminded me of other terrible studio bombs that seem similar formulaic set-ups, namely R.I.P.D. and JONAH HEX. An underdeveloped hero, aided by an unlikely sidekick, must take down some crazy person’s plan for world domination. In this case, the characters of Tom, Gregory, and Malkin fill in those blanks. To make things even worse, there’s nothing in the way of spectacle to be offered either. These effects look like they belong on the Syfy Channel and not in multiplexes nationwide.
Seeing as there’s little effort put into turning any of these characters into someone worth caring about, there’s not much of an emotional reaction when something bad happens to them. One scene is absolutely laughable in execution as the person who we’re supposed to feel sorry for has received less than 3 minutes of total screen time and about 6 lines of dialogue. Ben Barnes is hollow as blank-slate hero Tom, but Jeff Bridges is downright embarrassing as Master Gregory. Bridges has been typecast as a drunken mentor with a silly voice in recent years (R.I.P.D., THE GIVER) and seems to be half-heartedly phoning it in. Julianne Moore is laughably over-the-top in as the scenery chewing Mother Malkin.
The biggest issue with SEVENTH SON is the muddled, dreary script. There seems to be far too much material squeezed into 102 minutes with little in the way of developing certain plot points that definitely needed more time spent on them. A great example in showing just how crammed SEVENTH SON is comes in the villains. There are multiple big threats including a shape shifter, a ruthless assassin, a four-armed swordsman, Mother Malkin, and another underdeveloped witch named Bony Lizzie. While two (or even three) of these villains might have been cool, the screenplay packs all of them (including some faceless assassins) into the film for a climactic fight that becomes repetitive. The end result is a chaotically edited mess in which I didn’t care about who was killing who. There’s also a half-assed attempt at a romance between Ben Barnes and a young witch, but that story arc is just as clichéd and wooden as everything else in this film.
There should have been something decent to say about SEVENTH SON. I initially imagined that watching a guy kill monsters could be entertaining, even if the movie was poorly made. However, SEVENTH SON doesn’t have a single redeeming quality that I can identify. It’s a hollow mess of a movie that was delayed for over a year with good reason. That time period only allowed even more promotional material to hit and this disaster to feel even more painful for audiences. At the very least, SEVENTH SON should have been slightly fun, but there’s not a single drop of fun to be had here.