Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

WIMAGF: Seventh Son

Expected Release Date: February 6, 2015

Director: Sergei Bodrov

Based on: The Spook’s Apprentice (The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in U.S.) published in 2004

Overview: The seventh son of a farmer has few options when it comes to career, and so Tom Ward finds himself apprenticed to the County spook, who protects the local people from ghasts, ghosts, boggarts, and witches. A few rookie mistakes lead him to inadvertently free a dangerous witch, thus putting himself and his family in danger.

Working in its favor: The story is simple, and has some of the whimsy that makes Harry Potter so special (a temperamental housekeeping boggart, for instance). On top of that, this series has a dark edge to it that stands out from the crowd of young adult fantasy novels, while still drawing on familiar mythologies. Thus, the audience isn’t taxed by having to learn a new world entirely but still gets the thrill of something new.

Potential issues: When I say this book has a dark edge, I mean really, really dark. It’s written on about a fourth-grade reading level (written well, I might add, making it a rare gem), but it was so… so scary, for lack of a better word, that as I read I was sometimes surprised that this was marketed for kids–or even young adults. Of course, I’m a coward. It may be–and I think this is more likely–that this book would make the perfect movie for budding future fans of supernatural horror films. Sort of “The Exorcist” lite. For parents’ sake, however, the trailers need to make it clear that that’s what this film is, and younger kids should stay away.

However, while the book is frightening enough to scare an adult into turning more lights on and waiting until she’s not alone in the house to finish reading, the protagonist is a child. Tom Ward, the spook’s apprentice, is 12 years old, barely out of boyhood, yet the actor cast to play him (Ben Barnes of the Chronicles of Narnia) is 33. This is almost definitely a problem. It may be that the director did not want to risk casting an inexperienced young actor in a lead role, but this series has thirteen parts. That means that, assuming each book is made into a film, and the films are released in consecutive years, by the final film Tom Ward will be played by a 46 year-old man. The only way this works is if Ben Barnes ages exceptionally well, or if the story is changed enough in adaptation that an older Tom Ward makes sense. But then, who is the intended audience? Children who have read the book might find they are too young to see the movie, while adults who have no love for the book might pass over a horror-lite movie for something more frightening.

Wild card(s): The director. For making a young adult fantasy/horror flick, a Russian director could be perfect. Because, you know, Russians are dark and scary. Seriously, though, with his most acclaimed films being those about crime and war, Mr. Bodrov could preserve the unabashed, honest darkness of The Spook’s Apprentice, and turn out a creepy, spine tingling film for fantasy fans who are ready for something nightmarish.

Verdict – WIMAGF?: I’m giving this a tentative “yes,” though I suspect it will have greater appeal in the UK, where the books are quite popular, than in the US, where we’re still enjoying dystopian societies with teenage heroes.