People will give you plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t go see the new Vin Diesel action-horror smorgasbord The Last Witch Hunter. Yes, it’s got holes in the exposition of the mythology. Motivations are obscure. Vin Diesel’s smile is a bit more revolting than usual. The love story between witch hunting Diesel and witch bar owner Rose Leslie (a.k.a. “You know nuthin’, Jon Snuuww!!”) is one of the most puzzling you’ll see in a movie this year.
For all this, though, Witch Hunter has its charm, partially because this is not the kind of bad Hollywood fantasy adventure we see getting made that often. It’s an original screenplay, not an adaptation, and the concept is surprisingly singular. It tells the story of a 13th century witch hunter who is cursed with immortality while fighting and killing the queen witch of a coven inside a jumbo-sized gnarled tree. These are the witches who are — of course — responsible for the Plague that killed his wife and daughter.
Fast forward to 2015: jaded immortal and jacked bro Calder (Diesel) is still fighting witches, with the help of a Catholic sect (including priests played by Michael Caine and Elijah Wood…yep) and a good/chill witch counsel devoted to promoting the peace and keeping dark magic down. Calder’s a little more jaded than he used to be, having left the possibility of love behind back in the 13th century; the only things he loves are fixing up old occult talismans and whiskey. Things get a little more hairy than usual when it seems like the ancient dark magic of the coven — usually, evil CGI tree roots flying all over the place — is a little closer to home, and that the queen witch isn’t quite gone for good.
That’s the basic fabric of our universe here. But there are plenty of fun and ridiculous details in Witch Hunter that distinguish it from the pack of well-oiled action and superhero flicks, and make it the ludicrous John Wick/Age of Adaline/Game of Thrones/Buffy the Vampire Slayer/The Ninth Gate mashup to see on the big screen this Halloween.
5. 13th century beard ties
The fact is: you haven’t seen a hair set-up this unnecessarily ridiculous since Travolta’s dreadlocked days in Battlefield Earth. Witch Hunter hits you with this shit right off the top (in an intense cold open), and it takes your breath away. Shaved head and braided pony tail, meets extensive mustache with Fu Manchu side-dangles…it’s so much to see all at once. One only wishes 13th-century Kaulder was a more significant chunk of the movie.
4. Isaac De Bankolé as a well-dressed, bakery-owning warlock who carries around a suitcase full of butterflies and witch juices
Hey, Isaac De Bankolé! What you doing in this movie? Oh, you don’t know either? It’s all good, I’m happy to see you. Literally have no idea of the backstory for your weird character, but it is cool when the Queen Witch’s heart was a seed that gave birth to a big evil tree all over you like a cocoon. That’s what happens to snitching witches!
3. Vin Diesel breathes on windows to get his witches
There are many ways Kaulder figures out when there’s some witchy shit going down; normally he pulls out some potions and dusts that break spells or show hidden flaming pentagrams in the middle of the floor. But sometimes all it takes is a loud Diesel exhalation on a window (say, of a plane). He sees some sick-ass runes in his breath…lo and behold, there’s a hipster Wiccan (Audrey from the MTV “Scream” show) a few rows up.
2. There’s a “Witch Prison.”
This is where Diesel, the good witch committee, and a big warden monster made of bones puts the bad witches and warlocks when they pull out some o’ the dark stuff. But the official, technical name? What it says on their checks and the lease? By all accounts, “Witch Prison.”
1. Michael Caine
“I don’t give a fuck, I’m in another movie, playing a character identical to Alfred in Batman. Except I’m in a curse coma with witch symbols all over my face for most of the movie. Cut my check, blokes — I’m Michael Caine, of ‘You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off’ fame. Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.”
Witch Hunter, baby!