Back in the day a little plague, bubonic in nature, busted out on the scene due to rats and their penchant for being absolutely disgusting. Rats are still around today. Half of the population of the planet earth is missing thanks to these nasty little rodents. This is the backdrop for Christopher Smith’s film ‘Black Death’ which is less about the Bubonic Plague and more about a group of Christian Warriors doing a little crusading to stomp out some Godless heathens who would dare not to be infected by the Black Death.
In this fourteenth century Drama / Horror movie we meet Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a young monk in this terrible time that is desperately in love with the beautiful maiden Averill (Kimberly Nixon). But she’s no virgin maiden, no sir, Osmund took care of that. But be it seven hundred years ago or yesterday, Catholic Monks should not be having sex with women. However what’s done is done and Osmund knows that if his lady love stays around this town where the plague has run rampant, she too will suffer an avoidable fate so he sends her away into woods. Averill wants Osmund to join her but he cannot betray his oath to God. She correctly point out that he betrayed his oath the minute he tasted that cookie. Nonetheless, he sends her forth and stays behind begging God for some kind of sign that would allow him to both serve his God and be with his woman.
That sign would arrive in the form Ulrich the Christian Warrior (Sean Bean). He has arrived at the monastery on orders of the Bishop searching for a man of God to guide him and his team on a quest. Somewhere beyond the marshes is a village that has managed to avoid the Black Death and Ulrich just wants to know how they have managed to do so. Seeing this as an opportunity to be reunited with his lady love, Osmund volunteers. His father superior (David Warner) protests, seeing the boy as far too young and inexperienced, but the Bishop’s command trumps all and now it’s time for Ulrich, his men and the boy priest to go on a little adventure.
On this journey Osmund will see some things in this world beyond the walls that will shock him to his core, not excluding Ulrich’s men themselves. As Ulrich’s right hand man Swire (Emund Elliott) would tell the boy, they’re not as bad as he thinks. They’re worse. Ulrich informs Osmund that they have no intention of gathering facts but instead just want to gather up the necromancer leading this village and bring her to trial and execute her. She and her people have forsaken God, and that’s against the law.
Eventually the men make it to this village and the truth of the matter is that it seems like a wonderful place. The food is plentiful, the women are beautiful, the people are pleasant and this necromancer who calls herself Langiva (Candace Von Houten), a woman reported to use black magic to do things such as raise the dead, seems like an ordinary person. Ulrich, if nothing else, is steely in his resolve. He will kill these people in the name of God and bring this Godless woman to trial. Tomorrow that is. After some drink, some food and a good night’s rest.
Well, so much for that plan. Osmund witnesses first hand what this woman is capable of, but it’s too late, they’ve been had. The options she presents are simple. Renounce your God and live, remain loyal and die. But these Christian Warriors, barring an exception or two, or some tough nuts to crack. Langiva just knew she had a trump card to bring Osmund around to her way of thinking, but she underestimated the boy. Is this village a den of satanic witchcraft? In retrospect, probably not. But some bad things are going to happen to a lot of people.
‘Black Death’ is a rock solid film that packs a pretty powerful punch when taken as a whole, but this isn’t so surprising considering director Smith’s previous films I’ve seen in the black horror comedy ‘Severance’ and the thriller ‘Triangle’. No humor in this movie though. Smith handles his subject matter with all of the seriousness that one would expect from a movie centered around the Bubonic Plague and religious persecution. And while this movie isn’t a hack and slash adventure film, the few scenes of violence in this movie are brutal, vicious, unsettling and at times this film is downright harrowing.
If Sean Bean can do one thing as an actor about as well as any actor, it is brood and intimidate, and he does it here to perfection. His men may be mean and vicious and unforgiving, but this is the guy those dudes call boss. But even Ulrich has to take a back seat to the spectacular Candace von Houton and her character of Langvina when it comes to brutality. We have a good idea what this woman is in this movie, but we know with certainty that she isn’t to be trifled with.
One of the more intriguing parts of ‘Black Death’ is the argument posed by our respective characters, through some well written dialog, as to God’s existence with both sides using the argument to fuel their own vicious, unspeakable agendas. Which ever side you happened to be on during this time period was probably based more on your survival instincts and less on your actual belief system. And even then it might not have mattered much.
The movie is called ‘Black Death’ and as such there’s not a lot fun to be had here. It’s brutal, unflinching and often cruel. It’s not the movie to watch if you are searching for your happy place, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good film to watch.