Film Review – Black Death

Black Death poster

The Abbot: Even if you do make it back alive, the outside world will change you

Osmund: Maybe that’s what I want.

With those portentous words, Black Death really gets underway. Set in the 1300s, it tells the story of young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), leaving the confines of his monastery to lead Sean Bean and his group of church paid-soldiers to a local village that has not yet been affected by the plague, amidst rumours of necromancy.

For Osmund, Bean’s request for help comes as a sign from God that he has a purpose in the outside world, a sign he looks for after sending his girlfriend (and we suspect lover) away from her local village to what he hopes is safety. Torn between his love for her and his love for God, he looks for a reason to enter the wide world, and when Ulric (Bean) arrives with permission from the Bishop to take a monk as guide, he jumps at the chance.
Once travelling with them he realises quickly that they are not just planning to investigate the rumours but to find the necromancer, torture him and return him to the Bishop.

Director Christopher Smith proved he could do slow-burning with Creep, and Black Death appears in no rush. As the men make their way to the village, we are given a quick sketch of the group, a medieval Dirty Dozen, some driven by money, some by violence, some by duty to God. While this is Osmund’s story, we are encouraged to view the world through Wolfstan’s (John Lynch) eyes, a soldier who has seen too much death but who has retained his humanity.

The tempo picks up halfway through the second act, and like Osmund, we are lead by the nose to the inevitable conclusion when we are introduced to Langiva (Carice Van Houghton), the woman who appears to run the little village and who almost radiates light compared to other dark and grimy characters.
Black Death is a film that knows its cinematic history and it’s hard not to see parallels with films such as The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General. While it builds up the tension and resolution admirably there are also plot contrivances that you could drive a bus through. Still, the film feels intelligent and well-thought out, and the coda is unexpected and fresh.

Redmayne is earnest enough as the monk, and Bean is as ever, dour, grimy and Northern. The stand out performances though are from Lynch, who is always watchable and van Houghton.

I have to admit, Black Death surprised me, it was much better, much smarter than I was expecting. The fight sequences are brilliantly shot and while gruesome are not overly gory or gratuitous. And while I wasn’t overly surprised by the direction the film took, it was ultimately engaging. Whether or not this does business within the current market will be the question, it deserves not to sink without trace.

This was originally posted on 27th April, 2010 over at Blogomatic3000

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~ by moviegrrlreviews on May 25, 2010.

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