Directed by Sergei Bodrov
Starring Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore
Based on the novel The Spook’s Apprentice, Seventh Son keeps only the names and the bare bones of some of the characters from the source. Instead it jettisons the low fantasy setting, the young central characters and the small but intense scope of the original and in its place substitutes a generic high fantasy setting, a bland hero, and a stock standard “destined to save the world from overwhelming evil” narrative.
Born the seventh son of a seventh son, it is Thomas Ward’s (Ben Barnes) destiny to fight evil. Apprenticed to the Spook, Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), Thomas has a week to learn his craft of witch hunting before facing the ancient evil of Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). To make matters worse Thomas has fallen in love with a witch, Alice (Alicia Vikander), that may be in league with Mother Malkin and her forces of darkness. Escaping the same grisly fate that has befallen many of Master Gregory’s previous apprentices is seeming less and less likely for Thomas.
Director Sergei Bodrov (Mongol) brings us little we haven’t seen before with Seventh Son. The look is a mishmash of historical periods and countries that seems surprisingly underdeveloped, more reminiscent of a Xena or Hercules episode than a big budget production. The visual effects are uninspiring, despite being the work of award winner John Dykstra (Star Wars: A New Hope). Everything is handled with the subtlety of an operatic melodrama, from the score to the performances. Here there is no nuance, just fevered intensity at all times. From Jeff Bridges’ slurred and mumbled fake accent to Julianne Moore’s faux Maleficent, no one does themselves any real favours. Still, at least the veteran actors are vibrant in their chewing of the scenery, which is more than can be said for the uncharismatic younger stars. This feels like the work of an earlier age, but lacks the naive charm of its fantasy predecessors from the ’60s or ’80s.
That’s not saying that there isn’t any fun to be had here. The cinematography is beautiful. Throughout its short run time the film moves along at a good pace, never bogging down. It also handles its many action beats quite well, using that constant intensity to good effect. These come across as quick, frenetic, and intense. It is just with everything being so unoriginal, there is no sense of stake or danger here. The audience is entirely aware of where this is going to go, as we have seen its like before.
This is an average movie, that is likely somewhat undeserving of the critical ire that it is drawing. Still, given the pool of talent that it had to draw on, the end result is disappointingly mundane. Somehow Seventh Son has accomplished the dubious alchemy of taking an interesting idea and reducing it to its blandest form. Not terrible, just An Unexceptional Journey.