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film review

Seventh Son is based on the first of a series of young adult fantasy novels called The Wardstone Chronicles by English writer Joseph Delaney.Kimberly French

Who is a seventh son? A man of foresight and mysterious powers, and in the Willie Dixon blues song, Seventh Son, a lover extraordinaire: "I can take you, baby, hold you in my arms/ And make the flesh quiver on your lovely bones."

Seventh Son, the movie, sounds promising. The story is based on the first of a series of popular young adult fantasy novels called The Wardstone Chronicles by English writer Joseph Delaney. Russia's Sergei Bodrov directed the Oscar-nominated movie Prisoner of the Mountains. The screenwriters include Charles Leavitt, behind the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller, Blood Diamond, and Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke). The front-of-camera talent includes Julianne Moore as a superwitch and her Big Lebowski co-star Jeff Bridges, as a witch fighter, or "Spook."

The younger couple, aimed at the intended young target audience, include the sensitively handsome, Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia) as Thomas, Gregory's apprentice, a young man whose occasional epileptic-type seizures cause him to have visions of the future. His romantic interest is rising Swedish star Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, Anna Karenina) as a winsome young half-witch, Alice.

Yet, even in 3-D and shot in the mountains of British Columbia, the film is a flat experience, with an incongruity between its big-budget ambitions and ho-hum impact. After a series of throat-clearing establishing scenes, we eventually learn that Master Gregory (Bridges) is a hard-boozing knight (Bridges's accent suggests a British Yoda talking through a mouthful of marshmallows), who has imprisoned the witch Mother Malkin many years ago.

Now Malkin has escaped, and as a woman Gregory previously scorned for another, has apocalyptic revenge in mind. With a "blood moon" approaching, Malkin (Moore, in her natural auburn hair and a Lone Ranger band of eye makeup) has summoned an army of too many creatures, including warlocks, ninja warriors, and one really big bear, to make the common folk even more miserable than they already are. Failing to establish either focus or rhythm, the movie attempts to use abrupt transitions to create a succession of scares and surprises. The two middle-aged, Oscar-calibre stars go eyeball-to-eyeball as they utter threats and curses, but the mixture of generic green-screen dangers and voice-altering technology, mutes any scary impact.

The common folk, who form the backdrop in a few scenes, look medieval (bodices, jerkins, swords) though there are enough broken columns and big-headed statues to suggest a sort of mash-up of Roman Empire and Easter Island, while Marco Beltrami's orchestral score is at full blast throughout, attempting to import a seriousness of purpose the script repeatedly betrays.

What we're left with is a story about women with special powers who must be burned alive to be defeated. Torching "witches" is the one part of the story that has some historical basis, and adds an uncomfortable edge of misogyny to this otherwise empty fantasy.