Black Death takes place in 1348. England is devastated by the Bubonic plague which spreads death across the lands and villages. An emissary of the bishop, Ulric (Sean Bean), arrives at a monastery recruiting a religious man, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne). to guide his soldiers and him through the forest and the swamp to the village.
They believe that there is a necromancer resurrecting people and protecting the village from the plague. Along their journey they come across witches, battle forest dwellers and the plague as well. When they reach the village, they find happy and healthy villagers that have renounced God but are living in peace. Furthermore, they are welcomed by the leaders Hob and the alchemist Langiva. Although all is not as it seems as this village presents challenges both physically and spiritually.
Director Christopher Smith has a real knack for atmosphere and tension. His previous works such as Triangle and Severence could not be more different from each other, and Smith enters new territory with Black Death. Triangle posed more of a challenge for Smith by weaving a complex story with emotional horror in such a coherent and entertaining fashion. Severence went the opposite direction by successfully mixing comedy and referential horror.
Here, Smith enters the medieval world and takes a look at morality and religion. The first half of the film sets up the characters and the world Smith creates around them. Once they enter the village they have been seeking, the film takes a horrific turn that tests the main characters in ways they could never have imagined. The atmospheric village gives the viewer an unsettling feeling that is hard to explain.
Sean Bean, currently starring on HBO’s Game of Thrones, gives a tense performance here as Ulric, a man who is ultimately devoted to God no matter what the cost. Semi-newcomer Eddie Redmayne (who seems to be popping up in any medieval project these days) gives an impressive performance here as the monk whose faith is tested to some shocking bounds. His transformation is the center of the film, which Redmayne carries well.
Carice van Houten plays Langiva brilliantly, allowing the audience to distrust her, but not sure why until the startling revelation towards the end of the film. She is at times helpful and caring, but can also turn around be very evil and dangerous. The eerie sense that steams off of the village is one of the most unsettling things about the film. Once our heroes first enter, the audience knows that there is something a bit off about the place.
Black Death is a Gothic and atmospheric horror film that does not follow the typical conventions of horror films, delving into more emotional and spiritual boundaries to frighten the viewer. While the film may not give you nightmares, it will most likely stick with you. I couldn’t help but put myself in the position of our heroes, trying to think of how I would react in their situation. The film raises questions of our own morality and faith in the world we live in, and does so in a very aggressive and somewhat shocking manner.
Black Death‘s Blu-ray transfer is spectacular. The film is given a gritty realism with its crisp visuals and strong sound. Every stab and every sword fight is felt by the viewer and ambiance is great. Surround channels are put to good use and the score comes through beautifully, never overtaking the dialogue, which is also prioritized well. Visually the film is also wonderful. Strong detail pops up everywhere, especially in the faces and aside from some weak black levels, it looks very good.
There are a few special features here including four short deleted scenes, interviews, and some behind-the-scenes footage. None of the special features have a very long run time though, making some feel a bit cheated. However, hearing the cast and crew talk about the film and its making is something worth watching if you enjoyed the film..
Overall, the film is a very entertaining period piece that succeeds in both thrilling us and making us think – it also looks great on blu-ray. The cast is very convincing in their roles and they each deliver exceptional performances. Black Death is a satisfying dark film that pushes its characters to the edge physically, morally, and spiritually.
Director Christopher Smith successfully executes this film with a steady hand and professionalism in making his audience feel uncomfortable while giving them a very satisfying and thought-provoking experience. Smith is a very visceral director who should be watched closely, as each of his projects becomes more and more interesting and different than we’ve seen before.
Black Death is both entertaining and thought-provoking. It features some great performances and a chilling story.