I’ve had some horrible disease ravaging my frail body for the past few days, what better than to watch a movie about the bubonic plague, right?
First, this movie is awesome. Plain and simple. I might be overreacting due to the chemicals altering my brain right now and the fact that it’s one in the morning, but literally, as I was watching this, my first thought was “This is a 21st century Wicker Man.” I see you raising your eyebrows, brushing me off. And again, it might be the drugs talking, but Black Death really impressed me in a way a religious horror film hasn’t done in a long time.
The plot of the film involves a teenage monk named Osmund. He’s recently devoted himself to the Church and being a servant of God. Meanwhile, he has a girlfriend whom he is deeply in love with. The tension is “Hey, I’m a teenager…do I really want to be a celibate monk for the rest of my life?”. What’s happening around the country is, of course, the black death. The plague is ravishing all the villages and even the monastery. Nobody is safe and so Osmund basically forces the girl he loves to leave for fear that she’ll be a victim. But she makes an ultimatum to him. She tells him that she’ll wait at a specific location at dawn for a week to give him time to make a final decision. If after a week he doesn’t come, she’s leaving forever. So she rides off and Osmund asks God for a sign as to what he should do.
Meanwhile, Ulric (Sean Bean) rides into the monastery. He and his men are on a mission from the Bishop and they need a guide to lead them through a foggy forest in order to find a village in the middle of a marsh. Seeing this as his sign to be with his gal, Osmund volunteers but it soon becomes clear what this secret mission is all about. The village is untouched by the plague due to a necromancer’s shenanigans. The objective is to infiltrate the village, find the necromancer, kill him, and then bring his body back to the Bishop. So the first part of the film is following Osmund, Ulric, and this band of motely God-loving warriors through a creepy forest.
Then they find the village.
I won’t spoil any of the stuff that happens because I thought it was all really rad and well worth discovering on your own. Without giving anything away, these soldiers do find a group of friendly, welcoming citizens. But things start going terribly wrong. Is it the necromancer, or is Ulric a little too blinded by his faith to see the truth?
I was totally engaged by this movie the whole way through. Normally, I hate British period pieces like this. I find British middle-agey history to be the dullest, most boring shit ever. Like “Oh, let’s have another stupid war with France. Gee, aren’t our longbows swell?”. And I was generally concerned about that aspect. But this movie was totally forward moving, beautiful to look at, and engaging the whole way through. I haven’t been the biggest Christopher Smith fan. I hated Severance, for example, and Triangle was so close to a copy of TimeCrimes that it felt almost like plagiarizing. But Black Death is Smith really coming into his own. It is chock full of religious themes and questions. Characters are constantly having their faith challenged. It’s a film that shows both the cruelty and humanity of religion, sometimes at the same time. The film has great acting across the board. All of the soldiers in the group are unique and easy to distinguish from each other. I wish there had been more scenes with all of them to develop them more fully. If that’s one thing the film falters a bit with its that some of the secondary characters could have been stronger and more well rounded to the audience. These dudes are badass, I wanted to know a little bit more about them. The cinematography is great with the outdoor locations just stunning to look at. There’s a healthy dose of blood, but nothing over the top, though there are a few scenes that’ll make you cringe. And the ending of this movie is just flat out rad bananas. Starting at the village (you’ll know the scene when you see it) and culminating in the change that happens to one of the characters.
It’s 2 in the morning and I’m in pain. I need to try and get some sleep. This has probably been a terrible review but I was excited enough after watching this that I wanted to get my initial reaction out there. I can’t imagine a horror fan not respecting some of the stuff this film is saying. It’s heavy themes you just normally don’t get in horror movies nowadays. It does what a good religious horror film should do: make you think.