Season of the Witch
Author: Bragi Schut
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:At the height of the Black Plague, a group of knights and clergymen transport a suspected witch across France.
Synopsis:LaVEY DE CRECY, a Knight of the Crusades, and his mountainous Knight friend, FELSON, drag their boat ashore on the coast of France. They wander through the countryside until they come upon a farmhouse, inside of which they find a family ravaged by a terrible diseases (bubonic plague). They take two horses — still alive — and continue on their journey. Coming along the road in the other direction is SANCIERRE and a platoon of soldiers. Sancierre agrees to take them to Avignon, and along the way he explains to LaVey and Felson about the plague.
At the papal palace in Avignon, LaVey and Felson are introduced to FRA’ DeBELZAQ, a priest. He continues Sancierre’s explanation of the plague, adding that the King has fled and that they have in custody a witch who has confessed to unleashing the plague on them. DeBelzaq enlists the aid of LaVey, Felson, and Sancierre in transporting the witch to the Abbey Severac, where they can use a book of rituals to destroy her powers. DeBelzaq leads them to the witch, a harmless-looking GIRL. LaVey is appalled that they do not feed her. She lunges at him, revealing herself to be chained to the wall. LaVey shows no fear.
LaVey has his doubts that she’s an actual witch, but DeBelzaq warns him of the consequences of disobeying the Church. Haunted by his experience in the Crusades, LaVey says he does not want more innocent blood on his hands. DeBelzaq insists she is not innocent. The next morning, LaVey tells DeBelzaq that he has made a decision: he will transport her to Severac only if she receives a fair trial. DeBelzaq tells the CARDINAL, who reluctantly accepts the terms. DeBelzaq adds his fear that LaVey is facing a crisis of faith. To combat this, the Cardinal decides to send DeBelzaq with him.
LaVey does not approve of DeBelzaq’s proposed route, which will take them through the notorious Wormwood Forest. Frustrated, DeBelzaq takes them to HAGAMAN, a traveling con artist currently incarcerated in their jail. DeBelzaq agrees to release him on the condition that he lead them to Severac.
When they go to get the Girl ready, Sancierre notices the Girl’s untouched plate of food. Before he can warn them, the Girl is attacking DeBelzaq, accusing him of poisoning the food. With some effort, the men force her to stop resisting. They put her in a cage, which goes in the back of a wagon they have prepared for the journey.
As they set out for the journey, Sancierre quickly realizes they are being followed. They set a trap for him by leaving the wagon, seemingly abandoned, in the middle of the road. The RIDER stops, baffled, and the knights burst from the trees, questioning him. He is KAYLAN, an altar boy/wannabe-knight looking to make his mark by helping them transport the Girl. Distrusting of his skills, Felson tests him — he’s good with a sword and clever on his feet. With some reluctance, they agree to let him travel with them.
That night, LaVey brings the Girl some food. She tells of another girl in her village, suspected of being a witch, whose “trial” consisted of putting stones in her pockets and tossing her in a lake. When she survived, they burned her. LaVey insists that she will be tried fairly. Later, when DeBelzaq comes to relieve Sancierre from watch duty, Sancierre tells him all about his daughter, who died. Afraid the Girl will be tortured by those trying her, Sancierre attempts to kill the Girl. She lashes out and reminds him that he will have innocent blood on his hands. He doesn’t back off, so she grabs him and attempts to kill him. DeBelzaq tries to help, but she nearly kills him, as well. She escapes from the cage and disappears into the forest. The knights go after her, but she casts lightning and flames at them. Meanwhile, Sancierre begins hallucinating that his dead daughter is calling out to him. When he rushes toward the sound, he ends up impaled on Kaylan’s sword. With some struggle, Felson recovers the Girl.
At dawn, they bury Sancierre. DeBelzaq says a prayer. DeBelzaq confesses his fear that the Girl caused Sancierre to run into Kaylan’s sword. LaVey doesn’t believe this — he sees no reason for her to do this. DeBelzaq doesn’t believe evil requires reason. Later, Hagaman has led them to the crumbling remains of what used to be a bridge. He leads them along the river to a narrow bridge of rope and rickety wooden planks. With considerable effort, they cross the bridge. Kaylan nearly falls to his death, but the Girl grabs him at the last moment, somehow able to hold on to him with one hand.
Once across the bridge, LaVey realizes they’re at the edge of Wormwood Forest, the exact place they wanted to avoid. A thick fog has rolled into the valley, making it impossible to see long distances. After trying to muddle through, they decide to camp out and hope the fog dissipates overnight. In the night, Hagaman swipes a crossbow and goes after the Girl. LaVey discovers this quite quickly, but Hagaman is adamant — she caused Sancierre’s death, and she’s systematically killing them all off. LaVey doesn’t believe this, until the Girl begins howling — and her howling is greeted by the response of wolves.
Suddenly, they’re surrounded by wolves. It takes tremendous effort for the remaining knights to fight them off, but they manage to, with only one casualty — Hagaman.
The next day, the fog does dissipate, and they get through the forest. The group leads the wagon to the Abbey Severac, but when they arrive, they discover all the MONKS have died of plague. From one monk, DeBelzaq finds the Book of Solomon, the book that will supposedly rid the evil from the Girl. Before he begins reciting incantations, the Girl starts to make various admissions, revealing she knows “too much” about them — much more than she has witnessed. When DeBelzaq begins to torture her with recitations, the Girl admits that she is Lucifer. She disappears.
It occurs to LaVey and Felson that the Girl wanted to come to Abbey Severac, but they aren’t sure why. LaVey and Felson officially “knight” Kaylan while DeBelzaq blesses water. They do a room-to-room search for the Girl, and they end up in the Scriptorium, where they find a dozen dead Monks in the process of copying the Book of Solomon. These books burst into flames suddenly, and it occurs to LaVey that this is why the Girl wanted to go to the Abbey — she knew they’d have the Book and she could destroy it. Now, Zombie Monks have risen and one attempts to strangle DeBelzaq. LaVey vanquishes it, and DeBelzaq begins to recite a ritual to remove Lucifer from the Girl’s body. As he recites, more zombies come at the knights, who kill every last one of them.
When DeBelzaq is distracted by the apparent death of Felson, the Girl kills him. She’s about to grab the book when LaVey showers her hand with holy water, burning it. LaVey wants to know why she needs the book, and the Girl explains that the Book of Solomon is man’s attempt to “shift the balance” between good and evil, and if she can destroy it, evil will conquer. She tries to kill him, but, hidden somewhere, Kaylan begins to recite the ritual. She continues to strangle LaVey, who urges Kaylan to continue the ritual and let him die. Kaylan can’t do it. He’s about to hand her the book in exchange for LaVey’s life, when Felson rises up and plunges his sword through her arm, pinning her to the wall.
Kaylan continues the ritual. The Girl breaks free, but LaVey and Felson are prepared to stop her from getting to Kaylan. Both end up sacrificing themselves to ensure that Kaylan finishes the spell. He does, and Lucifer is removed from the body. Kaylan and the Girl — now unpossessed — buries LaVey, Felson, and DeBelzaq. The Girl is amazed that men would give their lives to save her. Along with the Book of Solomon, Kaylan and the Girl ride off on his horse.
Comments:The writer does a pretty good job of evoking atmosphere and period. A few of the sequences, particularly in the third act, were legitimately creepy on the page. His occasional lapses into overtly modern dialogue felt a little jarring and sloppy, because the bulk of the dialogue has a pseudo-medieval feel; however, that can be remedied with a quick polish.
The real flaws here lie in the interaction between the story and characterization. I’m a fan of this type of “line ‘em up and pick ‘em off”-type horror movie, but the characters here are very, very thin, without much in the way of distinctive personalities. They’re a group of generic, one-word descriptions (“knight,” “priest,” “swindler”). On some level, this makes sense — since all but one has died by the end — but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. LaVey’s bland crisis of faith comes closest to giving any of the characters an arc, but the change comes too quickly and leaves too many questions that don’t get answered because of his death. Because the characters aren’t interesting, their deaths have little resonance and the story, on the whole, just seems pointless.
They’re also subservient to the plot. Because of its mechanics, the natural opportunities for their personalities to shine through — in conflicts with one another or in dealing with the stress of the situations they face — go untapped, because if any of them question LaVey’s will too much, the logic of the story dictates that they’d all be dead before they got to Severac. Then, there’s a massive gush of exposition at the end — first about the Girl’s true motive for killing Sancierre and Hagaman, then about the importance of the Book of Solomon in ridding the witch, then about the importance of the Book of Solomon to the Girl/Lucifer. It either comes out in unnecessary flashbacks or in long dialogue scenes. This makes the third act tedious at times when we should be breathless with suspense.
The vague elements of this story — Crusaders forced to transport a “witch” during the time of the Black Plague — are interesting, but the execution falls flat. Finding more natural ways to reveal the exposition and individualize the characters would improve Season of the Witch quite a bit.
The gore, violence, and supernatural elements will likely appeal to horror fans, although the period setting might drive away more casual genre fans. It feels too much like a gritty horror film to appeal to costume-drama fans, but some crossover appeal might be possible.