Breck Eisner's "The Last Witch Hunter" (2015): A neo-mythical extravaganza in the dark abyss of magic

“You don’t go anywhere, because there’s nowhere to go!”

By Anirban Lahiri

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

The Last Witch Hunter, Movie Poster, Directed by Breck Eisne
The Last Witch Hunter (2015) - By Breck Eisner
Our Rating: 5.0
IMDb Ratings: 6.3
Genre: Action  | Adventure |  Fantasy
CastVin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood 
Country: USA
Language: English | Ancient Greek
Runtime: 106 min
Color: Color

Summary: The immortal last witch hunter takes up arms again to thwart the Witch Queen's resurrection.

The Last Witch Hunter is as much Vin Diesel as the signature of the Director Eisner himself. In fact, much more of Diesel. Vin, who is an avid gamer, comes out with the idea of Kaulder - an immortal, timeless witch-hunter who has been around for the last 800 years, since the dark days of the Witch Queen. The idea was snugly taken from one of the most popular role-playing games – Dungeons and Dragons. Diesel identified himself with such a personality, cursed to immortality by the dying Witch Queen. The entire mythology and narrative logic was built up subsequently, by Diesel, himself a producer of this film, the other producers Mark Canton and Bennie Goldman, and the Director, Eisner. The logic behind the curse of immortality lay in the fact that Kaulder could never return to his dead wife and daughter who would wait eternally for him in the other plane of existence.

Kaulder before he is cursed, The Last Witch Hunter
Kaulder before he is cursed
Through an alternation of warm firelight inside caves and blue mist and snow outside, the witches are established as the first children of nature, and the humanity a threat to them. But, as Asimov pointed out long ago, men would always read stories about men, and not of aliens. The witches must be subdued so that the humanity may progress. The parallel is as compelling as that between the Greek Titans and Gods. However, Prometheus was kept alive. Here, almost on the same note, the Witch Queen’s heart is kept alive, unknown to Kaulder, the last witch hunter, by his faithful companion – Father Dolan 36th, the advisory Catholic Priest collaborating with him. Why does the faithful Father Dolan make such an unfaithful act? Especially when that might lead to his own death and others? Especially when that might lead to the resurrection of the Witch Queen and the erasure of humanity?

Julie Engelbrecht as the dying Witch Queen, The Last Witch Hunter
Julie Engelbrecht as the dying Witch Queen
The contemporary storyline fits our own timeline where paganism is high among the new-gen kids, with clinical figures, such as Dr Brian Weiss and Dr Aubrey De Grey, making scientific claims about remembering past lives (i.e., Past Life Regression or PLR) and immortality, respectively. In our times, a long row of regression therapists gains currency, even in a cosmopolis like Mumbai. Big entrepreneurs, such as Sergey Brin and Peter Thiel, of Google and Paypal respectively, invest billions in anti-aging and permanent age-stopping research. Magic is here and now. Nobody really knows what are going on inside the NASA or MIT labs, or inside the privately funded labs strewn across the world. Nobody ever believed, thirty years ago, that the physical barriers in space would break down in the new millennium because of a gadget and a software application – smartphone and facebook, respectively.

Kaulder in the contemporary world, The Last Witch Hunter
Kaulder in the contemporary world
Cinema tries to echo and address the contemporary existence. Contemporary witchcraft and magic – the technologies – may bedazzle us. But, the question remains – are we more powerful than our ultimate Gods – the Nature? This is where the contemporary thread of the film begins – with the latest jet flight completely destabilized by the mid-air thunderstorm, sparked by the witch’s stones.

Kaulder is the guy who keeps a check. He steps in to keep things in balance. The filmmakers’ expressed intention was to create a legend as powerful as Gandalf or the Highlander. In fact, more powerful than them. This is why they pooled a number of relevant faces in this film – Vin Diesel himself (Fast and Furious franchise), Elijah Wood (Father Dolan 37th here; Frodo Baggins from the LOTR series), Sir Michael Caine (here his role as the retiring Father Dolan is very similar to that of the butler, Alfred, in the Dark Knight trilogy), Rose Leslie (Ygritte, Game of Thrones), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Beowulf and Grendel) and the multi-talented Julie Engelbrecht (the Witch Queen in this film).

Belial, the chief agent of the dormant Witch Queen, The Last Witch Hunter
Belial, the chief agent of the dormant Witch Queen
The cast were eclectically chosen by the filmmakers, as they claim in a whitepaper published for distribution along with the movie’s premiere and press shows. The result, however, is not so impressive. When Marcel Mauss, the cultural sociologist, was writing A General Theory of Magic more than a century and a decade ago, his idea was to rationalize the use of magic – its tradition in any culture, and at the same time to observe how magic explains things in certain societies (and at certain times in all societies, including the most advanced ones – remember The Exorcist (1973) or The Omen (1976), or even Rosemary’s Baby (1968) , although that is more pronouncedly allegoric?) just the way scientific reason is used to explain things in our, civilized, society. Mauss helped, in a way, to dissolve the influence of magic in the upcoming reign of science and technologies, at the turn of the previous century. It was a momentary dormancy – changing roles. Magic was never dead – the irrational, the unknown, still wields the same quasi-magnanimous power over us. More so, today. 

In the previous generations, they at least knew how to cohabit with these objects and apparitions of irrational fear. Today, we have lost that habit.

Kaulder and Chloe, The Last Witch Hunter
Kaulder and Chloe
The Last Witch Hunter partially addresses this problem. But, it fails to make the full impact because the common man is almost never shown in the battle between the good and the bad – the witch hunter and the witches.

A categorization of good and bad witches is made in the film too – much like the good and the bad Englishman, coined by Rabindranath Tagore and some other nationalists at the turn of the last century. Kaulder, the last witch hunter, has to take the help of, and make friends with, a memory witch, Chloe, who runs a memory bar in downtown Manhattan. Kaulder goes there to revisit his past life. In the course of the film, he finds a special talent in Chloe – she is a dream-walker. It seems perfect for Kaulder and Chloe to make a team. But, why would they do that? 

Witch Queen after her resurrection, The Last Witch Hunter
Witch Queen after her resurrection
The motivation for such an act is not plausibly put in the film. But, the gigantic creatures, the shape-shifting witch and the powerful stooges of the Witch Queen make some moderation to that lack. The Last Witch Hunter is a good condiment to the senses, but not too original. The backstory is missing, in bits and pieces, from the plot. So, after a while, the film starts dragging, in terms of the repetition of spectacles. 

The film had the promise to be interesting. It falls flat on its face due to repeated and predictable jugglery of special effect spectacles, and the thorough predictability of the plot at those pithy points where the film could get its maximum momentum.

P.S. Made in a modestly high budget ($90 million), the film has ridiculously bombed at the box-office in the opening weekend. We feel that the film was not properly marketed to its most potential niches of the audience. General marketing may not work for such films any more, especially during the autumn vacation throughout the North hemisphere.

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!
The Last Witch Hunter (2015) Trailer

People who liked this also liked...
Share on Google Plus


Post a Comment

Thanks for sharing for valuable opinion. We would be delighted to have you back.