Wikipedia, the Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history and is estimated to have killed 30% – 60% of Europe’s population, reducing the world’s population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400. This has been seen as having created a series of religious, social and economic upheavals which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover.
The death and pestilence spread by this deadly plague was of Biblical
proportions, and it seems that the dark mark it left upon history would
be the perfect material for a horror film. Lucky for us, Magnolia
Pictures’ Black Death has risen to the occasion.
year is 1348. Europe has fallen under the shadow of the Black Death.
As the plague decimates all in its path, fear and superstition are
rife. In this apocalyptic environment, the church is losing its grip on
the people. There are rumors of a village, hidden in marshland that
the plague cannot reach. There is even talk of a necromancer who leads
the village and is able to bring the dead back to life.
Ulric (Sean Bean), a fearsome knight, is charged by the church to
investigate these rumors. He enlists the guidance of a novice monk,
Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) to lead him and his band of mercenary soldiers
to the marshland, but Osmund has other motives for leaving his
monastery. Their journey to the village and events that unfold take them
into the heart of darkness and to horrors that will put Osmund’s faith
in himself and his love for God to the ultimate test.
Black Death is a gripping film dealing with issues
of faith, temptation, redemption, salvation…all huge issues back in the
Dark Ages and still relevant today. It has a bit of Wicker Man-feel,
only because of the dark secret the blissful and untouched village
hides. It also has a much more somber feel and isn’t a film to take
lightly. I liked how the film subverted the usual Christian vs. Pagan
dynamic and made the pagans vicious instead of their usual hippie-dippy
Speaking of viciousness, the film also boasts some wicked medieval
battle scenes, complete with swords, maces, axes and even an iron
maiden, among other torture devices. Despite the bloodshed being far and
in-between, I was surprised how bloody the film actually was,
especially in contrast to the subdued tone of the film and stark beauty
of the cinematography.
The film looks stunning, from the cobblestoned streets of medieval
Europe to the dark woods the characters travel through to the
sun-dabbled village they finally arrive at. The mostly cold and bleak
visuals echo the overall ominous atmosphere of the film. The grand scope
of the cinematography makes me wish I had seen Black Death in a theater, but even on the smaller screen its grandiose scope wasn’t lost.
I liked the storyline because it had an epic feel and because of the
themes it explored. As mentioned previously, I liked how the Christian
vs. Pagan dynamic was flipped, with the pagans persecuting the
Christians instead of the other way around. I also liked how the film
showed unwavering faith in the characters as they were faced with
temptations and challenges. The film ends on a brutal, downbeat note
that was definitely disturbing and shows how evil can corrupt even the
The actors gave performances equally intense to the storyline and
visuals. Sean Bean is especially good as the God-fearing Ulric, but I
also liked Eddie Redmayne’s performance as the conflicted Osmund. In my
opinion, though, Carice van Houten stole the show as the village’s
Director Christopher Smith has crafted another unique film with Black Death and is definitively one of the most versatile directors of the horror genre. He gave us the spooky Creep, the darkly humorous Severance, the intense Triangle and now the bleak Black Death. His films are always engaging, entertaining and original, and Black Death is no exception.
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