Black Death is a gritty British horror/action film that was released in 2010. The premise? It’s 1348 and the Black Death plague is ravaging the English countryside. A young monk, Osmund (played by Eddie Redmayne, The Pillars of the Earth, The Other Boleyn Girl) falls in love with a girl who took refuge at his monastery. She flees to escape the plague and he looks for a sign to follow her and break his vows. That sign comes in the form of Ulric (played by Sean Bean, The Lord of The Rings, Game of Thrones, Sharpe) with his band of merry men who need to track down a necromancer in a village that has been left untouched by plague. This village is close to where our young playboy monk wants to meet his lover so he volunteers for the job taking it as a sign from God that he should leave. They find the village and it’s healthy and hale inhabitants and from there, the crux of the story unfolds.
Sandra: The good, the bad and the ugly….
The good part of this movie is the cinematography and the acting. The colors used for the plague stricken parts of the country are dull, lifeless, and muted. In the plague free village, everything becomes bright and come to life on screen. I really enjoyed the use of the colour scheme to convey the mood of the film – which for the most part is dark, violent and bloody. The contrasts in certain scenes are very marked and an interesting effect to help tell the story.
As for the acting…Sean Bean is back in his typecast role as a medieval Boromir-esque, grim, honourable, leader. As always – he’s a scene stealer with the other members of his party putting in fairly decent performances. Eddie Redmayne does a good job as Osmund but some of his character’s actions were not believable and his character was frustrating to watch at times, with the ending being rather disappointing. Carice Van Houten (Game of Thrones, Repo Men) does a fantastic job as the villainous witch of the village. She is the right mix of eerie and powerful to make for a believable and solid performance. It is easy to see why she was cast a year later to reprise a version this role in her character of Melisandre in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The bad and the ugly….The violence and gore. The movie is billed as a action horror or gothic horror. I get it – its the Middle Ages, its the Black Death, its a violent and scary time. None of that was conveyed in this movie. It was just violence for the sake of violence. It seemed like the movie would be about supernatural occurrences related to the Black Death but it comes across more as a spatter film. The supernatural element was glossed over and taken over by blood and gore. The violence is brutal and at times, over the top. It seems to be thrown in here and there for filler and does little to scare the audience and more likely to make you cringe than creep you out. There are torture scenes that get excessive and some actions taken by characters seem like lazy script writing – not well thought out at all, and making little to no sense.
Peter: Black Death bills itself as a “Journey into Hell” and the film does a good job of portraying a dark and fearful world, where death is omnipresent. If one is prepared for a high level of gore and violence, the film will be enjoyable, but if you are on the squeamish side you will probably be averting your gaze a few times during the action.
Otherwise the film has its strength and weaknesses – Sean Bean gives an excellent performance, and the cast of knights who follow are also fun to watch. But I wasn’t enthralled with Eddie Redmayne’s character, who seems to spend much of his time watching events and asking simple questions while other characters actually do something.
Historical take: The Black Death did provoke a wide range of reactions among people, including violence and religious extremism. Black Death provides a good look at how that world may have been like, albeit in an extreme format, and the gritty realism adds a sense of authencity. Still, by the 14th century it would be hard to believe that any part of England, even a remote corner, would have strayed so far from Christianity.
Sandra: The movie is interesting and not a waste to watch but it is definitely not going to be a horror or action classic by any stretch. If you’re having a night in, this is definitely not bad for a rental just don’t go into it with high expectations. Sean Bean manages to salvage some of this mess but it’s not enough to completely wipe away the over-gore factor combined with some poor plot problems.