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Set during the period of English history when the Bubonic plague
spreads death across the land, a troubled young monk named Osmund is
recruited by a band of soldiers to investigate a village that remains
untouched. What they find there will change them forever.
Having enjoyed Christopher Smith's previous movies ("Creep", "Severance" and "Triangle"), I had high hopes for "Black Death" and was not disappointed. Although the gore of his previous movies is still evident during the battle scenes in which arms are severed by swords and heads crushed by maces, it's largely underplayed here with the script placing greater emphasis on the story's themes of faith, religion, superstition and love. It is this emphasis, along with the various twists in the plot, which make the choices faced by the characters in the third act of the movie so very interesting.
I was repeatedly reminded of the original "Wicker Man" whilst watching "Black Death", not only because of the central theme of a devout Christian confronting something terrible which attempts to challenge and undermine his own beliefs, but also because of the cold, bleak cinematography reminiscent of a seventies horror movie. The entire production is nicely directed and Smith utilises his horror knowledge to keep a constant and oppressive threat running throughout the film, regardless of the scene, to maximum effect. The visual effects, whether for the symptoms of the plague itself or for the various wounds suffered by the characters, are also excellent.
The cast are universally fantastic, although Sean Bean's towering performance portraying the leader of the soldiers and a man "more dangerous than pestilence" steals the movie. Eddie Redmayne does well in the central role of Osmund and manages to make his character's personal journey both interesting and believable, whilst Carice van Houten is also memorable in an important role during the second half of the movie.
I was very impressed by "Black Death" and would recommend it to those who enjoy atmospheric horror movies such as the aforementioned "The Wicker Man" or "Don't Look Now", as well as those who seek out movies set in or around this period of Britain such as "In The Name Of The Rose" and "The Reckoning". Although parts are grim and even upsetting, it's never dull and is definitely a movie worthy of your time and support.
Medieval scholars will probably find substantial problems with the
film's depiction of the Middle Ages, but to a non-historian it
certainly feels closer than many other period movies: buildings are
mostly squalid and insubstantial, the weapons and armor of the soldiers
are crude and ill-assorted - Ulric (Sean Bean), the bishop's envoy, has
the best of everything, while his followers are progressively less
well-equipped as they descend the social scale - and it gives a good
sense of the unwelcoming, sparsely-populated landscapes of medieval
Britain. The casting works well too: the soldiers are, for the most
part, neither Hollywood pretty-boys nor stock grotesques, but have the
look of real people, 'warts and all'.
The impression of a brutal, bleak time when life was not merely cheap but nearly worthless is reinforced by the look of the film. It's coldly lit, and everything is misty and uncertain. This distinctive atmosphere creates a feeling of constantly impending disaster without the need for the cheap frights and minor chords of a horror movie.
The characterization is often surprisingly complex: Ulric may be a fanatic, but he's also a pragmatist who is no crueler than he needs to be. Even his soldiers are not one-dimensional brutes, but have their own personalities, with subtly-sketched human traits. The film encourages you to think about the motivation of even the most minor characters. Eddie Redmayne as Osmund does a good job of presenting a complex and conflicted character for much of the film.
The weak point where the characters are concerned are the women. Averill (Kimberley Nixon) and Langiva (Carice Van Houten) sometimes feel more like plot devices than people. This is not the fault of the actresses, who both deliver good performances. It's just that their characters are more constrained by the requirements of the plot.
As with any film in which religion plays a major part, there's been some debate as to whether the film is pro- or anti-Christian. To my mind, it's neither. All the characters, whichever faction they represent, are badly compromised. The only value system that it really seems to promote is that of simple humanity. It's no accident that the director gives the final voice- over to Wolfstan (John Lynch), who emerges ultimately as the film's most sympathetic character, a somewhat tarnished and world-weary ideal of what it means to be a 'good man'.
By and large, the film works well in terms of plot and pacing. It doesn't drag, and there are few obvious plot holes. Where it falls down badly, however, is with the ending segment, which feels like a hurriedly-sketched afterthought. The fact that the director felt it necessary to deliver key material in the form of a voice-over should have warned him that he needed to rethink his approach. The film would probably have been not only complete but also stronger if that whole section had simply been cut.
It isn't a standout film, but it's certainly an interesting one. It's well made and acted and it leaves you with plenty to think about. Any film-maker who wants to truly convey the feel of the Middle Ages - brutal and squalid, and at once alien and familiar - should watch "Black Death" and take notes.
While some may see this movie as having a not so subtle undertone of
'the greatness of Christianity', I saw it as an interesting exploration
of religion itself. The characters in this movie all differ in their
religious views, allowing you to identify with them based on your own
religious persuasion. There is the fanatic, the believer, the non
believer, the good, the bad, the in between etc.
The plot itself helps this journey, as the characters move from one setting to a vastly different one, all the while suffering the same basic experiences. Their initial motivations, in addition to their reactions to these experiences, all differ along the lines of their beliefs, and help either strengthen or weaken those beliefs. This movie shows quite well, that people's attitudes to religion have not changed in hundreds of years. God is still used to explain things we do not understand, and fear and "miracles" are still used to recruit and keep believers.
Human behaviour also has not changed much. Even faced with the 'black death', one of the worst pandemics in human history, people still found reason to divide and fight amongst themselves assigning blame and punishment rather than band together. The way these themes fit in so appropriately with the medieval setting, makes it all the more surprising that they can still be applied in today's world. All in all, a good movie for open minded people because although the film explores these themes, it makes no conclusion. That is left to the audience to determine who was right, who was justified and who was wrong; who was good and who was evil.
Set in 1348 the Black Death is at it peak, however, one village appears
to be immune to the plague. Ulric (Sean Bean) devoted Christian enlist
the help of a Monk (Eddie Redmayne) to lead him and his men through
dangerous lands to this unholy village where it is said the dead are
being brought back to life.
Two British directors and writers really standout for me in recent years, Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Descent and Doomsday) and Christopher Smith (Creep, Triangle and Severance). Smith's latest offering has it the mark with a blend of swords, Catholicism and Wicker released the same year Neil Marshall's well advertised Centurion, which on first viewing was bloody but average compared to Marshall's other work.
Smith's vision with marshes, fog and mists across the lands it oozes atmosphere. The gritty realistic sets and settings are note worthy, everything looks authentic and aged, perfect for first outbreak of bubonic plague. There's some great practical effects, cadavers, dismemberment's and blood. The flights are finely choreographed and swordplay is raw and relentless as limbs are hacked off.
The latter part of the film slows down, building tension in the seemingly safe village, Smith's develops the eerie strangeness of the rural superbly, reminiscent of the Wickerman (1973 & 2006), In the Name of the Rose (1986) and The Village (2004).
Although in fear of being typecast as another chain armoured soldier Bean gives a passionate and gripping performance, and newcomer Redmayne plays the confounded monk Osmund's admirably. The supporting cast, even though another band mercenaries are memorable and the characters are developed. Comedy actor Tim McInnerny is satisfactory in an unusual serious role as the village head. There's a notable cameo by David Warner as The Abbot. However, it's Carice van Houten who steals the show as Langiva the striking necromancer.
There's a little too much shaky hand held camera work at times, that aside the cinematography is first rate. Dario Poloni screenplay is the icing on the cake, as the dialogue feels authentic and unforced, compared to the aforementioned other period piece. It explores religious beliefs, faith, witch hunts, occultism and much more.
With low expectation's for another period piece, I was pleasantly surprised by Smith's vision. Certainly not perfect or the grandest film; however, it's a gripping medieval, satanic mystery action that has a nice original twist at the end.
Black Death is a hidden gem, as others have put it, and far from the
Hollywood slop it so sharply contrasts. It could not be much more true
to its' name, which is quite possibly the bleakest title a film can be
given, while it feels genuine to its period backdrop. Everything here
feels true to its' nature. And there is no excess of special effects or
melodrama, or anything watered down, and instead the story is full of
In 1348, the young monk Osmund finds himself conflicted at the films start, as his secret love Avrill is fleeing their plague-ridden city and provides him the choice to meet her in the marshland. Upon asking for a sign for guidance, his monastery is visited by Ulrich and his party of Christian fundamentalists. On a mission to a village beyond the marsh in search of a necromancer and any other witches to stamp out, he asks for a guide and young Osmund obliges. Thus begins an ugly and gritty crusade across an English countryside that is riddled with fear, intolerance, and the Black Death.
The struggle is personal as well as conceptual. For Osmund it is personal, as his love for Avrill causes him to question his own faith due to the charms and tricks of the pagans (huge plot twists underly this theme)and the brutality of the band he guides. And then the bigger picture, the struggle between the Christians and the pagans, is tastefully portrayed with an objective narrative. In the film, there are cruelties and acts of brutality inflicted from both belief systems. This was perhaps my favorite element to the movie. While personally I rooted for the pagans against the tyranny of the church, I found that my brother and I could argue over who was the demonized side, and the writing offered no kind of resolution. That the oppression of the church and the clandestine nature of the pagans only fueled one another is probably truer to history than textbooks will ever show, this movie portrays the idea brilliantly (despite the dark feel).
If you think the movie sounds interesting, and are interested in it for plot, substance,and a gratifying experience, check this one out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What is right and what is wrong ? Who was "good" and who was "bad" ? Is there a god ? Or devil ? Or no one ? Or both ? After seeing a movie you will not be able to find the answers to above questions for sure. According to medieval knowledge about diseases this scenario could have been possible. There are many lessons to learn in the movie corroborated with many sociological perspectives, however they remain untold clearly and could be interpreted in many ways, each of us has its own view. In a religious or a non-religious way. Acting is super, Tim McInnerny and Sean Bean are great, also the rest of the crew follows and keeps the audience convinced at all times. Atmoshpere is (I guess) reflecting our present perception of "medieval", no special effects were used for that besides interesting camera angles, but this will not be disappointing but rather encouraging. I highly recommend this movie, it has something ... special.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Set in the 14th century during the height of the plague, Black Death
follows the story of Osmund, a young monk torn between his love for a
young woman named Averill and his duty to God.
At the beginning of the film Osmund sends Averill away from the plague infested town in which his monetary is housed, and promises to meet her at a pre-arranged location in the near future. Shortly after a knight named Ulric, played by Sean Bean, arrives with a group of fellow soldiers on a special mission ordered by the bishop. Ulric tells the monks that there have been reports of a village that has escaped the ravages of the plague and that witchcraft has been suspected in its preservation. Ulric requests that one of the monks guide the soldiers to the village, so that they may investigate the situation.
Osmund, seeing his opportunity to reach Averill, volunteers to accompany the soldiers to the village, and so his journey begins. Osmund guides the soldiers to nearby the meeting place he and Averill had previously arranged, and they make camp. Osmund uses the opportunity to sneak away to meet Averill only to discover bloody rags, and a group of bandits, remaining. Osmund then makes a hasty retreat back to camp where he awakes the soldiers who then proceed to kill the bandits. Distraught with the loss of Avrill Osmund continues to guide the soldiers to the village, where not everything is as it would first appear...
The film contains strong performances from Sean Bean, Carice van Houten, Davis Warner and Tim McInnerny. McInnerny, of course famed for his roles playing upper class buffoons in televisions such as Blackadder, was highly believable in his portrayal of a very different type of character and that was gratifying.
In terms of both the visual look, and in terms of ambiance, the film was also very good. The graphic depiction of the plague, in addition to the desolated environment, set against the relatively lush scene of the un-ravaged village, really aided the haunting atmosphere the film attempted to invoke. The violence and misery of life during the period was also not a subject that the film shied away from, and in places verged towards being perhaps too brutal.
The major down point for this film was Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Osmund, a role he didn't really seem to get to grips with until the final scenes of the film. Another problem was the pace of the film, despite not being very long, consisting of only 102 minutes, the film seemed to drag and last far longer.
But those issues aside, I enjoyed the film.
The story takes place in 1378 during the beginning of the Plague in
England. A group of soldiers with the guidance of a young monk, named
Osmond, travel to a remote town that has seemed to be free of
pestilence. The monk willingly agrees to accompany them to do "the Will
of God." However, as they get closer towers their destination he learns
of a darker secret that may cause the residents of the town to be free
of the sickness.
Black Death is very well-paced and thought provoking. The acting is very well which helps you connect with the characters better. There is a creepy tension throughout the movie and builds up immensely when the group reaches the village. You start to wonder what is really going on and if the residents of the village are as evil as they were told. There is also a great amount of action which is quite brutal. The conflict between Christianity and Witchcraft creates a tense buildup between the soldiers and the villagers. The soldiers are tested on their beliefs and must make tough decisions for their will to survive,
The movie makes you think after you watch it and portrays a historical event in a way that it's never been looked at before.
Set in 1348, during the time of the first outbreak of the bubonic
plague in England, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a young monk, is tasked to
accompany a determined knight named Ulric (Sean Bean) and a group of
mercenary soldiers in learning the truth about reports of people being
brought back to life in a small village, where the plague has not
reached. While Osmund sees this as a mercy mission, Ulric believes
necromancy is involved and is determined to bring this necromancer to
justice. Their journey leads them into various obstacles and darker
moments as secrets are unveiled.
Despite its grim mood and subject matter, this film is an entertaining and generally a thought-provoking, medieval horror/thriller. Even with the film's low budget, it is impressive to look at. The misty landscapes, the costumes, the filthy details, and the sets are impressive. Some of the makeup and soundtrack may seem a tad modern, but they are not distracting. While the film is considered a historical horror film, it is also a bit of an action flick, as it has some energetic, gritty swordplay, with some blood and limbs flying off.
The film takes place around the time of the Inquisition when there was much distrust from the Catholic church and the government toward pagans. Ulric is a zealous warrior driven by hatred. He believes he is serving God through the use of his sword against suspected necromancers. Osmund, the monk, on the other hand, believes that in order to love God, one must serve through mercy and love.
There are no characters here that are fully saintly. I felt Eddie Redmayne's performance as Osmund really made this film work. His performance feels genuine and he acts as I would imagine a monk would act and talk, and he is emotionally relatable. As the film progresses, one can appreciate his good range of emotions and acting ability. As for Sean Bean, one can't help but feel he is reprising his role as Boromir from Lord of the Rings. He has the same type of hair. He is wearing medieval armor. Again, he plays that proud, brash character who we know will do something brash. I would love to see him someday play a real calm, jovial, intellectual character. To the film's credit, Sean Bean gets to stretch a bit as Ulric is not completely two-dimensional and we do get to know more on how he became the type of character that he is. The rest of the cast, who have their own special look and quirk, do a laudable job and work together well.
The action scenes have a good amount of tension and intensity, but the shaky camera effect can be dizzying. There is about one major fight scene, which happens midway into the film. Once the main characters make it to the village, things get a little more surreal and one realizes that this is not necessarily an action film, at least in a conventional sense. I've noticed the characters in the village feel, talk, and look strangely modern. I'm guessing these villagers still farm for a living, but they seem quite clean and manicured.
The script is sharply written, with good detail in the dialogue. The film attempts to explore how extreme situations can turn people into hateful zealots, or a violent fundamentalist. There is a twist at the end, which is interesting, but somewhat hard to swallow. The film doesn't attempt to give any big answers, but it is an interesting exploration of man's dark nature, the cycle of vengeance, and how good people can turn cruel when evil is done on them.
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Don't let the religious background of this movie put you off, this movie isn't about god and evil this movie is a sad exploration of human nature about one's need to force its beliefs upon others, about how far guilt and grief can take someone. This is a good brutally realistic human drama set in the time of the bubonic plague. Very well developed characters no 1 dimension personality in that one Dario Poloni did a good job. Regarding the aspect of the time set of the movie it is also very well done. An overall good movie great directing (not that one would expect anything less from Christopher Smith) but sometimes the picture was a bit shaky which kinda bothered me.
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