This close. You were this close, Sergei Bodrov, this close to finding the right ratio of badness to goodness—this close to churning out a ham and cheese sandwich to rival the likes of Beastmaster, Willow and Hawk the Slayer. Bodrov’s Seventh Son is cut from the same cloth, an ’80s schlockfest made in the wrong time and, perhaps, by the wrong person. It’s terrible, but it’s that special kind of terrible that can make a wary genre fan fall head over heels for its unapologetic awfulness. You’ll want to root for Seventh Son in spite of yourself. This is a movie where Oscar nominees spout nonsense about blood cakes, blood moons, blood rituals and other blood-related topics. How can you not love that?
To a point, all of this means that Bodrov has done his job and done it well. Seventh Son is a diligently atrocious production; the script is about as refined as most fan fiction, the sets look like the same used in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, the acting is negligent and the action is harder to follow than cricket. (The only thing that works here is the costuming, so a well-earned kudos to Jacqueline West.) Really, the film is just a big joke from start to finish, though Bodrov seems to want to get us “in” on the joke. If you aren’t the type to find the idea of The Dude teaming up with Prince Caspian to kill Clarice Starling absolutely hilarious, this isn’t the movie for you.
None of this is to say that Seventh Son has much merit beyond its ridiculousness. It is very much trash, but it verges on being great trash, a willfully crummy B-movie that wears its influences and taste level at equal prominence on its sleeve. The film begins by introducing us to Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), an alcoholic warrior-cleric who wanders from one hamlet to the next fighting off various skeletons, spirits and haunts. He’s in the market for a new apprentice after his previous trainee, a criminally discarded Kit Harington, perishes in the picture’s first 15 minutes. Gregory’s quest leads him to Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), a simple farm boy who isn’t actually quite so simple as he appears, because—wait for it!—he’s a seventh son of a seventh son.
That means big things in folklore canon, though here the designation never winds up amounting to anything more than an excuse to drop the film’s title in a third of its dialogue. Gregory just needs someone to harangue, abuse and pal around with as he goes off to destroy Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), the queen of all witches. Freed after 10 years of imprisonment, she’s bent on killing all the humans, ruling the world and other assorted, staple Bad Guy stuff, which offers a nice complement to the basic, clichéd Good Guy stuff that our heroes get up to along their journeys. They argue ethics and morality, they tussle with monsters and Tom falls in love with Malkin’s niece, Alice (Alicia Vikander) for no other reason than “fate.” (There are literal sparks between these two. Blue sparks. Lord have mercy.)
If you’ve seen the classics, you’ll predict the direction of Seventh Son with ease. Bodrov has seen those films too, and he’s also clearly a fan of Tommy Wirkola and Sam Raimi. His enthusiasm for the “medieval fantasy horror” archetype is obvious in every single frame. But Bodrov is no Raimi, and Seventh Son ain’t no Army of Darkness. This is a trainwreck, and not the accidental kind. People made this thing on purpose. Every shoddy element on screen blends into a melange of intoxicating crappiness, though the climax isn’t at all up to the preceding hour and change of glorious celluloid catastrophe—having overextended itself, the film peters out and grows glacially dull. Seventh Son is about as absurdly stupid as they come, but it at least manages to be entertaining. Being boring is the worst sin it could possibly commit.
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Writers: Charles Leavitt, Steven Knight
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington
Release Date: Feb. 6, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been writing for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently he has given up on shaving.