“Wrong questions get wrong answers.”
So slurs Master Gregory, the unintelligible Spook at the heart of Seventh Son, the adaptation of Joseph Delaney’s novel The Spook’s Apprentice. It’s Gregory’s golden rule: Ask the witch hunter a stupid question, get a stupid answer. It would appear that the people responsible for Seventh Son only asked stupid questions in the process of making this movie.
Directed by Sergei Bodrov, Seventh Son takes place in a fantasy world where legends and nightmares are real. Giants, trolls, witches and worse lurk the realm, and so too do Spooks, an ancient order that exists solely to combat these creatures. The Spooks are assisted by apprentices, and these apprentices must be the seventh son of a seventh son. Why must it be this way? Don’t bother. Wrong question, wrong answers, and all that.
These days, the Spooks aren’t even a shadow of their former selves; it’s a shadow of that shadow, as only one remains: Master Gregory, an eccentric slobbering mess of a man played by Jeff Bridges. Fond of fermented liquids and punching fellow bar-goers in the butt, Gregory is wholly unprepared when an exceptionally powerful witch named Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) returns from years of entrapment, Rita Repulsa style.
Gregory challenges Malkin, loses his apprentice in the process, and is left with only one week before the rise of the blood moon that will restore Malkin’s full power. That gives Gregory only seven days to find a new seventh son of a seventh son to become his apprentice — leading him to Tom (Ben Barnes), a young farmer with sporadic visions of the future, and pretty much no other apparent use at all.
From the movie’s opening moments, featuring a terrible time-lapse as Moore’s Mother Malkin hisses and howls about revenge, it’s clear what you’re getting out of Seventh Son. Then again, if you know anything about the troubled production, you already have a pretty good idea before you step into the theater. Seventh Son was originally set for release in February 2013, before being pushed back various times for various reasons. It’s almost like a real-world Spook attempted to keep this movie locked away forever, but like Mother Malkin, it’s returned, ready to unleash its horrors upon the world.
Is Seventh Son any good? Wrong question, wrong answers. Is there anything to enjoy about Seventh Son? That’s more like it — and there absolutely is, assuming you brought your rose-tinted glasses to the theater. For one, Seventh Son feels much less like the Legendary Pictures offering that it is, and more like a Haim Saban show writ large. If Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog lived long enough to inspire a feature film, it might look a lot like Seventh Son. Adjust your expectations accordingly, and see if the laughs roll in as a result.
For another, Seventh Son functions as a spiritual cousin of The Big Lebowski. An obnoxious, over-the-top, fantasy-obsessed, super-distant cousin, mind you, but a cousin all the same, what with Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore cast in such larger-than-life roles as Gregory and Malkin. There’s a kinship between Gregory and Malkin’s relationship and The Dude and Maude Lebowski’s relationship, and it’s fun to imagine their surreal love story stretching beyond the confines of space, time, and reality.
There’s a kinship between Gregory and Malkin’s relationship and The Dude and Maude Lebowski’s relationship.
Of course, that’s fan-fiction, and that’s really the best you can hope for when you see Seventh Son. There’s not much else to hang onto here. Yes, there are monsters, including Bone Shuckers and Cattle Rippers. (“The Bone Shuckers shuck bones and the Cattle Rippers rip cattle,” says Gregory. “These names are fairly self evident.”) But they lack any real originality, no distinct characteristics to keep them front-of-mind after the credits roll.
And while most of the other performances are bland and forgettable, at least Bridges is having fun playing the drunken buffoon Master Gregory. The problem is, he slurs every single line of dialogue past the point of recognition with an accent best described as Gandalf meets Bane meets drunk. He’s the guy who is supposed to inform both his apprentice and viewers alike about the dangers of this world, but because he spews forth dialogue like so much vomit, much of the nuance (such as it exists) flies fast and furiously over the head.
Not that the dialogue is worth hanging onto, when uttered by anyone else in the film. At one point, Tom asks the woman he’s falling in love with, “I wonder what monsters have nightmares about?” She replies, “Humans, probably.” In another scene, Mother Malkin instructs her new apprentice: “Help yourself to the blood cakes, little one. They will give you strength.” During a training session, Tom asks Gregory a question about witch-hunting, but Gregory refuses to answer. “No time! There are witches that need killing.” As Gregory marches up the stairs away from Tom, he slurs one final line over his shoulder: “F—king witches.”
F—ing witches indeed, Drunken Gandalf-Bane. F—king witches indeed.
Seventh Son is in theaters now.