“Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is given the task of learning the truth about reports of people being brought […]
“Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is given the task of learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village.”
Director: Christopher Smith
Writers: Dario Poloni, Christopher Smith
Staring: Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Carice van Houten, John Lynch
Release Date: June 11, 2010
Streaming: HBO Max
Black Death (2010) is brutal. It is reminiscent of Bone Tomahawk (2015) in the way that it sucks you into false sense of security before dropping you in a pit of terror. A group of men, some braver than others, are on a journey they don’t fully understand. Additionally, both Black Death and Bone Tomahawk have casts that are more recognizable than one would expect.
In Black Death, the 14th century story begins when the monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) agrees to go on a mysterious quest with a knighted Ulrich (Sean Bean) to a village on the outskirts of what one would deem civilized society. This community has supposedly not been afflicted by the plague that is ravishing its way through Europe and so it is up to Ulrich and his gang of men to see what makes this place so special.
Unknown to Osmund upon volunteering for this journey is that the group of men he has joined are killing machines set out to hunt down a necromancer and demon worshipping leader who is residing in this marshland village. The quest to purify this village has bumps in the road, the first being when one of Ulrich’s men comes down with the plague and is killed off as an act of mercy. The second is when a band of thieves attack the company, an event which is laid at the feet of Osmund.
The devoted Christian took this quest only because it was a chance to meet up with his long lost love, but his personal terror starts when he finds her bloody clothes sprawled across a rockface. He looks up with his tear-stricken eyes and sees bandits looking down on him. Naturally, Osmund runs back to his sleeping arrangement with the mercenaries and the bandits follow him, resulting in an all out fight. It is at this instant that Black Death first wields its violent head. The kills are brutal and the gore is realistic and grounded in reality.
Eventually the men arrive at the estranged and unafflicted village. They claim to come in peace, but the leader of the community are not so easily tricked. Langiva, who is played by Carice van Houten (who played Melisandre in Game Of Thrones), welcomes Ulrich and everyone to stay the night and dine with them. Just as Ulrich’s men are getting comfortable, the drugs begin to hit them and all sense of control is lost. Langiva has the god-loving saviors in her grasps.
So begins the horror. Explicit torturing and body dismemberment begin at the behest of Langiva. Osmund, and everyone for that matter, has their faith in god tested as the supposed heroes are put through the painful ringer both emotionally and physically. The final act of Black Death paints a picture that hell is not necessarily a place for the unfaithful, but rather a tangible thing that which our saviors have voluntarily entered. It is up to Osmund and company to try and climb themselves out of hell, both on the emotional and physical level.
Black Death excels in setting up the atmosphere and despair that is England during the bubonic plague. The shadow of such an evil thing puts an even more grey hue over what was an already uninviting time in history. The character of Osmund is pinned as the innocent Guinee pig and the story unfolds like a maze to see which ending he’ll find.
The reason Black Death is one tier below some other independent horror movies is because of its ending. While it keeps with the depressing tone of the entire picture, the conclusion provides too much closure. Black Death had an air of uncertainty throughout all of it, but the story wraps up in a bow and gives punctuation to character arcs the audience doesn’t need. Let the horror of the unknown persist.
Random tid-bit here. Director Christopher Smith is a horror movie director but his resume is short. In 2009 he made his most well renowned movie Triangle, but personally speaking, it was not nearly as strong as Black Death. I gave Triangle a D-.
STANKO RATING: B- (3.0/5 Stars)*
*As a rewatch, I gave this movie the exact same letter grade and star grade as I did the first time I saw it. It was a while ago because I did not remember some of the plot points, but I still had the general gist.
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