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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



The Last Witch Hunter, Review: Witch one will Vin?

The Last Witch Hunter, Review: Witch one will Vin?                                                             

Like the aliens in Men in Black, the witches here could pass off as persons next door. That is, until they are found out by an 800 year-old man in black, the last surviving witch-hunter. The Last Witch Hunter is not the last movie about witch-hunting, and certainly not the best in its genre. But once you suspend disbelief totally, though, it might be mildly interesting to watch. Heart-tugging (I mean pulling hearts out, literally, with knives), changing shapes from cute girls to horrible demons, swarms of insects everywhere, and some hallucinating ‘memory tours’ that look like drug trips—that is what you are in for.

Centuries ago, Kaulder (Vin Diesel) managed to slay the all-powerful Queen Witch (Julie Engelbrecht), decimating her followers in the process. Before her death, she cursed the valiant warrior with her own immortality, separating him from his beloved wife Helena (Lotte Verbeek) and daughter, in the after-life. Eight hundred years later, Kaulder heads the Axe and Cross Society that tracks and incarcerates witches. On the eve of his retirement, and replacement by the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood), his right hand man, Father Dolan, the 36th (Micahel Caine), is found dead. The coven of incarcerated witches, under the guardianship of Glaeser (Rena Owen) is broken into, and the errant beings set free.

Kaulder soon discovers that the Queen Witch never really died, and can be resurrected by a bunch of present-day witches gone astray, led by the giant of a Belial (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), and the blind baker, Schlesinger (Isaach De Bankolé) . He is forced to team-up with his natural enemy, a witch, with memory magic powers, named Chloe (Rose Leslie), to trace the evil bunch and prevent the Queen Witch from unleashing a plague.

The scripting began as a pitch by Cory Goodman, with additional work by D.W. Harper, and Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club, Mirror Mirror), Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Gods of Egypt). Flashbacks dating to 800 years ago are a good idea; the witches not regrouping for 800 years is far less convincing. Kaulder’s powers are never defined and their source never revealed. Painting him as a womaniser (tongue-in-cheek, a guilty glee scene), the authors lead audiences to lose sympathy for his cause.

A Memory Bar, where potent liquids lead to sparkling images, is a clever ploy. Why Kaulder needs help from so many corners, when he is an immortal witch-hunter, is something the authors forgot to explain. Too many hazy, repetitive flashbacks make the goings on hard to comprehend. Modern-day Kaulder’s entry aboard and Abu Dhabi Air flight and the massive turbulence the aircraft undergoes as result of a careless witch on board, is a well-written scene. Kaulder and the 37th Dolan resorting to guns against witches may sound like an exciting idea, but it misfires (pun intended).

Breck Eisner (Sahara, The Crazies) directs, with incomplete control over the proceedings. He fails to ensure that even in a witch story, the narrative has to be clear and the dialogue necessarily explanatory. Of course, the technical departments can be faulted for the partly incoherent dialogue track, but Vin Diesel’s diction was never his strength. This is sharply contrasted with Michael Caine, Rose Leslie and Elijah Woods’ British delivery. Michael Caine’s role is less meaty than it deserved to be. The opening witch-hunt, later reprised once too often in flashback, keeps you trying to figure out what’s going on.

Vin Diesel is Vin Diesel, also producer Vin Diesel. He gets a wife, a daughter, opportunities to discipline errant witches, seduce an air-hostess, avenge a loyal servant, fight tormenting memories and, above all, kill the Queen Witch. In ye olden footage, the beard and a lock of hair on the head help the bald visage get a new dimension. Trade-mark half-grin firmly in place, he speaks as he always does, making you strain to decode it between your ears and your brain.

Paris-born Julie Engelbrecht, 31, the French-German actress who was bagged the role after an international casting search, makes her American film debut. She looks ferocious, in what little one can see of her, special effects concealing more than revealing her persona. Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) makes a precocious, endearingly lisping witch. Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings, Grand Piano, Maniac) is clipped in his accent and a good choice for his role, especially with the twist towards the end. Michael Caine (recently seen in Interstellar and The Secret Service) brings to it the dignity his role deserves.

With a Maori face and hair, Rena Owen, from the Maori territory of New Zealand (Star Wars, A Beautiful Life, Iron Man), has a brief role and one good scene. Icelandic actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Deep) is a mountain of an intimidating personality, while Isaach De Bankolé (Black Mic Mac, Chocolat, Run) looks utterly menacing with his coloured eyes, inscrutable face and gravel voice. Lotte Verbeek (Nothing Personal, Suspension of Disbelief, The Fault in Our Stars) is as indiscernible as Engelbrecht, on account of translucent flashbacks. Kurt Angle, TNA World Heavyweight Champion, can be spotted in a small part, playing a bodyguard.

The Last Witch Hunter is  a genre film that tries to cross over into other matrixes. Vin Diesel’s fans may be disappointed with the limited action, while horror film patrons might be okay with the deviations, since the horror quotient is serviceable, if not petrifying.

Rating: **1/2



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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