Even with sustained rumblings of its ‘troubled’ production status hovering over it like the black cloud of doom, it was too hard to resist the allure of seeing two Oscar winners in Sergei Bodrov’s belatedly released new film. Films synonymous with this label are usually half-heartedly discarded into the straight-to-DVD cesspit, their fates long since having been decided. Seventh Son (2014) is not markedly different, with a generic fantasy synopsis attached: when a master Spook, Gregory (Jeff Bridges), loses his latest apprentice in a surprise attack on evil witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), he seeks the seventh son, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), of a seventh son to continue his quest for revenge. Complicating matters is the love he once harboured for once-decent Malkin who, in a fit of jealousy when Gregory dared to look elsewhere, murdered his new wife. Using the guile and wisdom earned by his years of honing his spells and skills, Gregory must provide his new offsider with a crash course in combat and other skills. However, as they trek across a familiar medieval landscape, battering aside other obstacles in their path, their chances for survival seem dimmer than ever.
Nobody’s saying any of these performers deluded themselves into thinking this whole gargantuan effects-driven enterprise was Shakespearean in scope. But, for one, it’s clear to see how Moore, having never ventured into these waters previously, might have seen the role of an evil witch as a tasty diversion. None of her lines are particularly memorable or wickedly witty, but just getting to spit out a slew of venomous threats carries with it a cathartic undercurrent, surely. Barnes may not be the most magnetic screen presence of all time, but he at least provides Tom with a semi-credible mix of wide-eyed innocence with reserves of strength to call upon when tossed into the cauldron of battle. Bridges is hard to read; his performance is either semi-embarrassing with traces of dignity-preservation, or absurdly eccentric with touches of an unreadable genius that few will ever be able to appreciate. Talking as though with wedges of sour lemon stuck in his mouth, he plays Gregory as the cantankerous but kindly Spook, beholden to the quest but not incapable of a humanistic action or two.
The film’s production is not without some other noteworthy talent attached either. One of the screenwriters is Steven Knight, whose past work includes the credible Dirty Pretty Things (2002) for Stephen Frears and the brilliant Eastern Promises (2007) for David Cronenberg. Of most significance however was the brilliant Locke (2014), which he recently wrote and directed. It’s mystifying how Bodrov, a director who just seven years ago began his first project in a projected trilogy chronicling the life of Genghis Khan in Mongol (2007), came aboard for something so creatively unchallenging. The result of his first genuine Hollywood endeavour is lame, undercooked, predictably pitched – and yet strangely half-enjoyable. Marco Beltrami’s rousing, rollicking orchestral score, when fully wound up, breathes extra life into the action scenes which are kept ticking over with sound regularity. The special effects aren’t always convincing but pitched at maximum volume and with an almost admirably simple-minded intensity, stasis, at least, is never allowed to set in. Seventh Son, then, thanks mostly to Moore and Bridges, is an almost guilty pleasure.