Breck Eisner’s (director of Sahara back in 2005) The Last Witch Hunter is the story of an 800-year-old immortal guy who has been tasked with keeping the unseen supernatural forces of our world at bay. It’s a decidedly derivative genre effort, but a solid one nonetheless.
We open on a very George R.R. Martin north-of-the-wall scene as a group of witch hunters – led by a Nordic-looking Vin Diesel – enters the queen witch’s lair. Diesel manages to defeat this woodland enchantress but is cursed with immortality for his troubles. We skip forward to New York in the present day, and find Diesel still going about his business. We learn that a pact was formed between humans and witches that allows the latter to do their magic in secret once they leave the rest of us in peace. Naturally we find that pact looking rather precarious indeed. For 800 years, Diesel’s human counsel has been provided by a continuous lineage of clergymen called the Dolens, and when his most trusted (Michael Caine) is attacked, a potentially apocalyptic secret regarding the long-dead queen is revealed. Vin enlists the help of a young potions maker (Rose “you know nothing, Jon Snow” Leslie), and the two set out to restore a little equilibrium.
Eisner’s film – while still a decent crash-bang-wallop actioner – does work quite well as a Men in Black for the world of witchcraft and wizardry, while also playing around with the idea of a well-adjusted 800+-year-old man living in present-day Manhattan. We see his Central Park apartment decked out in cleverly selected antiques; Leslie works in an awful Williamsburg-looking potion bar and texts her mate about rare ingredients; ritual sacrifices go down under busy railway bridges; Vin (48) calls Michael Caine (82) “kid” without a hint of irony. You get the drift.
A less playful age discrepancy rears its head when a romance begins to blossom between Leslie and Diesel, 20 years her senior. It would be worth noting the creepy were it not for the fact that Vin’s character was born sometime around 1200 AD. Hollywood, eh? Indeed, a little more interaction with the real world wouldn’t have hurt, but all in all Witch Hunter comes across as a well-made and surprisingly lean piece of work. Whether or not it will spawn the franchise it has clearly sought out is yet to be seen.
The Last Witch Hunter | Directed by Breck Eisner (USA 2015) with Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine. Opens in NYC October 23.