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April 28, 2012

6

Black Death

by Franz Patrick


Black Death (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) was a young Christian monk who decided to go with Ulrich (Sean Bean), the envoy to the bishop, and his men (Emun Elliott, Johnny Harris, Andy Nyman, Tygo Gernandt, John Lynch) to guide them in reaching a village surrounded by a marsh beyond the Dentwich Forest. It was a place of special interest because word went around that a necromancer had taken control of the area. The heretic was to be apprehended and sent to the bishop for trial and execution. Based on the screenplay by Dario Poloni, “Black Death” was a gripping gothic horror with a supernatural premise on top of the Bubonic Plague backdrop. Since no one understood the science of vectors and disease, people surmised that the pestilence was an act of God, a way for Him to purge away the sins of His people. As the film got deeper into the mystery involving a person being capable of raising the dead, it was interesting to observe the way the men’s faith was challenged. Of particular interest was Osmund, torn between his devotion to his religion and being with a woman (Kimberley Nixon) he loved. Being a monk, he had to choose one or the other. The changes that occurred within each character, not all of them given enough time to get to know by the audience, had variation and maintained a certain level of subtlety. What was straightforward, however, was the physical journey that the men took toward the village. When the group stopped, they faced some sort of death. The standout was a battle among thieves in the forest. The violence was gruesome–throats were sliced, swords went through torsos, arms were torn off completely–but somehow it never felt gratuitous. I got the impression that we actually needed to see how fierce the men were so that later on, when they eventually had to face something so monstrous and they cowered like children, we had an understanding of their fears. The village in question was very curious. Since it was unexpectedly peaceful, the director, Christopher Smith, milked certain looks given by its residents. Hob (Tim McInnerny) was obviously the alpha male, his voice commanding and stature very proud. Langiva (Carice van Houten) was also worthy of suspicion. Her blonde hair which complemented her very pale complexion probably concealed a very dark evil. The abandoned church, given Christianity’s influence back in the day, was a good signal that something wasn’t quite right. There was one detail that didn’t make sense to me. After finding out about the unused place of worship, why did the men continue to trust the villagers by eating their food and drinking their wine? It felt like a plot convenience, a weak set-up so that the men from the outside would lose their advantage. It was a surprise to me because prior to that point, the material did a great job in circumventing eye-rolling clichés. Nevertheless, “Black Death” was very atmospheric, especially the sequences when the men had to wade through the marsh, and offered engaging performances, particularly by Redmayne. The movie worked because it sacrificed cheap scares for more thoughtful denouements.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 28 2012

    Confession: this is on my Netflix instant, I’ll never watch it.

    Even with your well written positive review.

    Reply
    • Apr 28 2012

      How come?

      I was reluctant to watch it, so imagine my surprise when it was actually pretty good!

      Reply
  2. Apr 28 2012

    It’s on netflix streaming? I’ll watch it tonight.

    Reply
    • Apr 28 2012

      I just checked. It still is! Let me know what you think. :)

      Reply
      • Apr 28 2012

        Well, I agree with you in most respects. Terrific casting, well directed, beautifully shot. I love Redmayne- seem him 3 or 4 times now. And Sean Bean. But the others were also fantastic. I just feel like, from the moment they reached the village, it fell apart. Like you, I wondered why they would so easily succumb to the villagers’ hospitality. You rated it 3 out of 4 stars, Netflix rated it 1 1/2 out of 5. I’ve got to go somewhere in between. For me, not as bad as they thought, but not as captivating as you made it sound. Still, I enjoy your insights and will continue to be led by your reviews.

        Reply
    • Apr 28 2012

      That’s strange because Netflix projected a 3 1/2 stars out of 5 for me. I think those red stars are relative for each person, depending on how we rate similar movies of its type. I agree with you, though–the village part wasn’t as strong as the scenes that came before, but I thought it regained its footing when they were asked/demanded that they renounced their faith. I also quite liked the somewhat surprising ending, how the monk’s experiences in the village changed him as a person and as a man of faith.

      Reply

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