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Black Death

A movie directed by Christopher Smith

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An Examination of Faith and How Contradictions are Present in Human Existence...

  • Mar 19, 2011
Sometime in January this year, I went to see the Hollywood medieval horror film “Season of the Witch” with very low expectations. I have eagerly awaited to see the movie that seemed to have inspired (to me)the idea that disappointing film had tried to portray with mainstream audiences in mind. I wanted to see a real movie about the period when the Black Death ran rampant throughout the land; I wanted to see a story beset in that period as to I could see the fear that such a horrible plague could’ve inspired.

Well, “Black Death” is one film that does satisfy my curiosity somewhat. Directed by Christopher Smith with script by Dario Poloni, this film is a reflection of the period and feels like a historical fantasy horror that is brutal, ascetic and can be seen as a haunting dissection of fundamentalism. I liked the way it manages to translate the rigors of faith and perhaps the fragility and strength of man’s inner spirit. Oh, the film is quite a horror film in its own right.

                               Sean Bean and Johnny Harris in "Black Death."

                              Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne in "Black Death."

In 1348, the Black Plague has been bringing death to almost every corner of Europe. Osmond (Eddie Redmayne) is a young monk whose devout service to God has caused him to doubt his faith and has led to him having a secret affair with a young woman in his village. When a knight called Ulric (Sean Bean) and his group of warriors (that includes John Lynch) enlists Osmund as their guide to find a community where a necromancer reigns, they set out on a journey across the land with their torture devices that can be used to force witches to confess. Having to face one peril after another in this disease-ravaged land, Osmund, Ulric and their band seek refuge in a village not stricken with the black plague. They suspect that something is amiss with a young woman called Langiva (Carice Van Houten) as she may indeed be the witch that they have set out to destroy….

With a title like “Black Death” one should know that this film would be hard to take. Not hard to take as with unrelenting violence and brutality, but rather hard to take because of its premise and the graphic imagery. Someone had told me that it was cruel and I have to admit that he was right. The pain, anguish and mental state of such a period is on full display. There is a very black, dark and pessimistic psychological area that the direction renders throughout the film; it touches the points of the areas of devotion and quite frankly it says something about the fragile state of man’s mind. How some need something to hold on to, for good or ill.

                          A scene from "Black Death."

                           Carice van Houten in "Black Death."

                           A scene from "Black Death."

The film is quite violent. Ok, it wasn’t so much as gory or brutal as some of the French horror entries I’ve seen, but it was the manner where the sadistic violence were injected into the premise. ‘Black Death” uses psychological, religious and fanatical fervor to make its points. It touches upon the extremes of devotions, the nature of such beliefs and how people tend to hold on to these beliefs, even if the price may be their own souls. Some people also find a form of justification to their actions as demonstrated by the film’s characters. Ulric is a fanatical warrior who would do anything retain his faith. He would kill, cheat and finds reason for such actions as he sees them as a purging of evil. Osmund may have more selfish reasons to his journey, he is blinded by his love for a woman and uses his devout beliefs as a way to justify his actions. The other members of the band were more or less in for it because of the money that the church had promised. They use their belief in God as a sword to bring salvation in their minds, it is a time when religious fanaticism ran rampant, and when sorcery may indeed exist (or does it?)

I suppose one may say that the film brings a mere believers against unbelievers premise and they would be right. In the film’s last act, the viewer becomes privy to the struggle within Osmund as he becomes tempted by Langiva. It was an exercise of faith in the face of magic and beyond the limitations of Christianity. It was heartbreaking to see such psychological pain inflicted on one man. Screenwriter Dario Poloni goes into different directions to display acts of sacrifice as he examines the disturbing manipulation of faith. It was a war within, how one can be torn to one belief and yet his heart may belong to another. The uncertainty of devotion versus the visible Earthly certainty as promised by a witch. I will have to say that I was impressed with the way the direction mixes in human drama, violence and cruelty, with brain-freaking inertia as he plays with a potentially offensive material with this premise. It makes the drama quite effective.

                            A scene from "Black Death."

                            Carice von Houten in "Black Death."

                            Eddie Redmayne in "Black Death."

The film does look very moody and the cinematography captures the anguish in its premise. The muck and paranoia of that era is exquisitely captured by Sebastian Edschmid as he renders the landscape as a near-wasteland that makes the calamity caused by the plague appear to be visual art. One problem that I did have with the film was that it felt like it was longer than it actually was, I know and I appreciate movies with a lot of mood and character-building, but the film does move rather slower than necessary. It felt like it took its time to get to its heart-rending final act; I know the direction wanted to build the story and characters so the viewer can be invested, but some scenes felt like minor fillers that sometimes felt a tad unnecessary, the pacing suffered as a result.

                         A scene from "Black Death."

In this world, you see how extremes can lead to doom, and how our fanatical beliefs may indeed lead to damnation; whether by the hand of God or by some other agent, unreasonable obsession and murder will lead to ruin. “Black Death” is a feral motion picture and it is not an easy film to like. It expresses scary contradictions on human incident and the limitations of our understanding that may ask us to look upon what we have seen; as the film plays on today’s growing fanaticism, blind beliefs or lack of. I am almost certain that it will drain a lot of its viewers and may even alienate some. “Black Death” is a horrific film that dares to go there; it is brutal, focused, sadistic, cruel and definitely thought-provoking. It is a haunting, bold examination of faith, then it transforms it into a poem of pain and suffering that is indeed suffocating and scary.

Timid Recommendation, Not a film for everyone [4 Out of 5 Stars]

Poster art for "Black Death." Poster art for "Black Death."

An Examination of Faith and How Contradictions are Present in Human Existence... An Examination of Faith and How Contradictions are Present in Human Existence...

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March 29, 2011
Sounds pretty good. I don't know if this is for me or not but I'm willing to give it a try. Have you seen Valhalla Rising or Enter The Void yet? ;-) Good review Woopak!!!!
March 29, 2011
I have actually reviewed VALHALLA RISING. I have Enter the Void on order. Thanks, Brian!
March 26, 2011
I don't believe this is my kind of entertainment. Reading your take on it would be entertaining enough :-) You did great!
March 29, 2011
Thanks, Sharrie!
March 20, 2011
WOW how did I never hear of this before now, excellent work WP.
March 20, 2011
it is now available ondemand and on a limited release in cinemas, bro.
March 20, 2011
Looks dark. I might have to check this one out.
March 20, 2011
It is different and me and Chris are on opposing sides on this one. I liked it and he hated it, but I understand where he's coming from. But you know me, I tend to lean favorably towards films with a depressing dark premise.
March 20, 2011
lol. I'm not sure if I will like it, but J's got it on our movie queue for us to watch.
March 19, 2011
I'm still dying (not literally) to see this film. I've always been fascinated with the religious fanaticism during the Middle Ages especially during the plague. Sounds awesome Will. I will be checking this one out in the future for sure.
March 19, 2011
I think you will like this one. I was impressed as to how it managed to relentlessly portray the dark side of humanity, and how evil can lurk in every shadow. One's action may seem just on the outside, but sometimes, cruelty can be masked by some belief--religious or political or otherwise. Btw, I have received your dvd, but I got so distracted with things that I coudn't go to the post office. I'll try to send them out in two weeks ok?
March 19, 2011
No prob, I'm going to be burning you that Tool CD comp and sending you a few books once I get my next paycheck and can afford the shipping. I may also send something else just for laughs.
March 19, 2011
Okay, so we are very sharply divided over this one. Hopefully, you won't be bothered when this ends up somewhere on my worst films of the year list. Make no mistake: It will be on that list.
March 19, 2011
LOL! Don't worry, I totally can see where you're at with this film, and I understand why you didn't like it (quite frankly, I somewhat agree with you), but I suppose I liked this one with those thoughts in mind and I have to admit I am a sucker for movies like this. I think we were also divided in "Kick Ass" but that was just because I read the source material. It is fun to read differing opinions. I am off to read your new reviews with my coffee...
March 19, 2011
Ooh, it sounds divisive, which usually means provocative and entertaining!
March 19, 2011
Orlok, don't you just love it when there are two extreme views of a film? ;) it's how we learn!
More Black Death reviews
review by . June 26, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     Not too long ago, I was in a World Studies classroom, studying the material covered in Christopher Smith's "Black Death". You could say that I was studying the Black Death/Black Plague itself, but then you would be wrong. We did not go in depth; we studied for only a few weeks, never quite touching the complex things. So this provoked me to dig around for my own; salvaging historical information regarding such a disastrous catastrophe. And let's just say that …
review by . February 28, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Black Death' Two Jews On Film Feel The Horror Of The Plague With This Historical Gem (Video)
' '   Black Death' directed by  Christopher Smith (Severance) takes place in Europe...The year is 1348...And things aren't going so great.  The Bubonic Plague has broken out and threatens to basically decimate everyone in its path.  Fear and superstition is at an all time high.  No one has figured out that the Plague comes from a rat bite.      The Church is starting to lose its grip on the people which of course makes the holy …
review by . March 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Black Death is not merely vile, sadistic, cruel, and ugly, it’s also deeply immoral. In the fourteenth century, as Bubonic Plague ravishes Europe, an isolated English village has managed to keep out the pestilence, first by renouncing God, second by torturing and murdering Christians who kill in God’s name. The fatal flaw of this premise is that it gives credence to reprehensible acts of violence on both sides of the religious spectrum. …
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William ()
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Please "Like" Film and Movies and Keep the Economy strong....LOL!!      My Interests: Movies, Anime, History, Martial Arts, Comics, Entertainment,Cooking, Things I don't … more
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About this movie


Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is tasked with learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village.
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Director: Christopher Smith
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Horror, Mystery
Release Date: 11 June 2010 (UK)
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Dario Poloni
Runtime: 97 min
Studio: Egoli Tossell Film, German Federal Film Board, Kulturelle Filmförderung, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
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