Adapted from Joseph Delaney’s book The Spook’s Apprentice the first book in The Wardstone Chronicles this film provides yet more YA fantasy fodder, but sadly doesn’t live up to any promises. It’s not for lack of trying but more that its sheer ridiculousness is just all too much to bear in one film.
Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a ‘spook’ and the last in a line of sacred knights, a man tasked with ridding the world of supernatural dark forces such as witches and monstrous ogres. Gregory’s nemesis Mother Malkin (Julieanne Moore) is the queen of witches and as the once-in-a-century event of the Blood Moon draws near, her power has grown and she’s escaped the cage Gregory had her captive in. So in order to defeat her, Gregory must pass on his skills and knowledge to the seventh son of a seventh son, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) who possesses a psychic gift and the strength to become a spook.
On paper this film had a lot of things going for it. Russian director Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains) steers screen story writer Matt Greenberg (1408) and screenplay writers Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) and Steven Knight (Locke) and all of them have the credentials with dark or broody material. To add to this, two of our three leads are Hollywood A-listers in Jeff Bridges and Julieanne Moore and the supporting cast is even impressive with Olivia Williams, Djimon Hounsou and Kit Harington. The fact that the YA film franchises have been bulldozing through box office figures lately was also something that you’d think you could bank on with this film. Sadly all of these combining factors just don’t manage to concoct a winner.
From the get-go I struggled with Bridges’ portrayal of Master Gregory, his accent in particular is this ridiculous mix of not-quite Sean Connery Scottish-British with his True Grit Rooster Cogburn but somehow trying to channel a perpetually angry Gandalf. Julieanne Moore was a little better as the all-powerful Malkin hell bent on exacting revenge against the humans who killed her witch and warlock brethren. Also she really rocks the dark gothic look and that feather-collared dress is divine. But this is Hollywood so there’s the added weird ex-relationship subplot that Gregory and Malkin once shared but when he decided to leave Malkin for another woman her jealousy fuelled her hatred. There’s a wasted opportunity there to delve into the more psychoanalytical aspects the dangers of scorning powerful women too.
Then of course there’s Ben Barnes who has had his fair share of fantasy films (Chronicles of Narnia as well as Stardust). He’s not given much to work with here, so he does at times feel a little wooden and it doesn’t help that his character is repeatedly left to figure things out from vague clues or instructions. The supposed romantic subplot he has with half-witch Alice (Alicia Vikander) barely rates a sizzle and the fact that he didn’t even have a singular shirtless scene was a little disappointing. Out of the supporting cast Djimon Hounsou and Olivia Williams fare the best in that they at least get some decent screen time. Kit Harington though barely lasts 5 minutes, it’s probably all they could afford to pay him.
On the plus side, the CGI and visuals are top notch, thanks to John Dykstra (of original Star Wars) and this gets turned up even more when you watch the film in 3D. Visually we get a nice combination between more intimate character-focused shots and wide panoramic shots to give scope. And there’s the lovable ridiculous side-kick called Tusk (John DeSantis in heavy makeup) who is the ultimate underdog, go Team Tusk. And if you’re going to have to put up with Jeff Bridges’ ridiculous accent, then hearing him say “ogre scrotum” is way funnier than it should be.
Seventh Son had the potential to be a fun fantasy romp but almost from the beginning it is a little too laughable to be taken seriously but at the same time it’s not quite camp or self-aware enough to be a cult classic.
Review Score: ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 105 minutes
Seventh Son is screening nationally from 5th March 2015 through Universal Pictures Australia