Black Death (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Christopher Smith|
|Music by||Christian Henson|
|Edited by||Stuart Gazzard|
|Box office||$272,445 (Worldwide)|
Despite not being credited as a writer, Smith made very significant changes in the second half of the script, including a new ending. All the scenes of Black Death were shot in chronological order, a rare occurrence.
The film takes place in 1348 in plague-ridden medieval England. Osmund (Redmayne), a young monk, is tasked with leading the feared knight Ulric (Bean) and his band of mercenaries to a remote marshland village which has remained untouched by the Black Death. Their quest is to hunt down a necromancer, who is rumoured to be able to bring the dead back to life.
After a journey beset with harrowing pitfalls, Ulric's envoy finds the village, an eerie utopia led by a beautiful witch, Langiva (van Houten). After she offers Osmund his heart's desire, he is forced to choose between his faith and the secrets the village reveals. It is then revealed to Osmund that Langiva is not a witch but simply a herbalist, using drugs and ceremonies to appear powerful, and that her village, which was untouched by plague, was too remote to have been infected. Osmund, torn between the logical argument that he killed his drugged girlfriend, believing she was a zombie, or the belief that Langiva was a witch, sets out to kill her, mistaking hundreds of women for her.
- Sean Bean as Ulric
- Eddie Redmayne as Osmund
- Carice van Houten as Langiva
- John Lynch as Wolfstan
- Tim McInnerny as Hob
- Kimberley Nixon as Averill
- Andy Nyman as Dalywag
- David Warner as The Abbot
- Johnny Harris as Mold
- Emun Elliott as Squire
- Tygo Gernandt as Ivo
- Jamie Ballard as Griff
- Daniel Steiner as Monk
- Nike Martens as Elena
Black Death was developed and produced by Douglas Rae and Robert Bernstein at London's Ecosse Films, with Phil Robertson of Zephyr Films acting as physical producer. Ultimately it could not get off the ground in the UK and became a 100% German production.The film was financed solely out of Germany, with Jens Meurer of Egoli Tossell Films acting as producer.
The film was originally due to be directed by Geoffrey Sax, and Rupert Friend and Lena Headey were attached to star. Famke Janssen was later considered for Headey's role. After he was attached to direct Black Death, Smith suggested Carice van Houten, Tim McInnerny, and John Lynch for their respective roles.
The film was shot in the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt at Blankenburg Castle in the city of Blankenburg and Castle Querfurt in Querfurt and Zehdenick, Brandenburg in the first half of 2009. Van Houten's first day on set was 14 May 2009. Technical elements included production design by John Frankish, a spartan score by composer Christian Henson, and cinematography by Sebastian Edschmid.
Smith's approach of the film and script changes
Smith explained his approach to the film:
It's a 'medieval guys on a mission' movie. The period of the black death – what's fantastical and rich about that period? I said, 'What if we took a realistic approach?' The people of the time believe the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins, or by the Devil to torment them. I wanted to find out what the characters felt and posit them on a journey of 'is it real? Or is it not real?' What would a necromancer be like if he existed? We added this fundamentalist knight, so it touches on fundamentalism. It's a super dark film but it's exciting. It's like a dark parable about how things haven't really moved on in the last 600 years.
In the original script, the second half of the film turned to be entirely supernatural: Langiva was revealed to be the reincarnation of the Devil, while Osmund "was actually in Hell and Hell being in the physical place." Smith changed this elements to represent the idea that to him "Hell is the Hell you are in within yourself", as he tried to represent in Triangle. Because it was considered too dark, producers tried to cut Smith's ending from the shooting schedule. However they changed their minds two days before the shootings of the epilogue.
International sales were handled by HanWay Films. Amongst other deals, Revolver Entertainment/Sony acquired the rights for the UK and planned a release on 28 May 2010, while Wild Bunch will distribute the film in Germany. The film is part of the Canadian Fantasia 2010.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes provides links to 59 reviews of the film, 68% of which are positive, ranking it "Certified Fresh". The critical consensus states: "Black Death delivers the fire and brimstone violence its subject matter warrants, while posing some interesting questions of faith and religion." In an advance review, Leslie Felperin of Variety wrote "A savvy, stylish horror-actioner that's more than the sum of its genre parts, Black Death manages to deliver enough suspense and bloodletting to appease gore fans... Use of grainy stock and a preference for special effects rather than visual or CGI effects gives it a pleasingly retro feel, as does its willingness to explore uncomfortable moral ambiguities. Tech credits create a strong, fetid atmosphere on what looks like a low budget. German locations in Saxony look appropriately beautiful, sinister and ancient all at the same time."
Alan Jones from Film4's FrightFest concluded: "Some may find the climax rather disconcerting as Smith pulls the rug from under one’s feet. However, the greater percentage will thrill to the way the eerie and puzzling intensity builds up a compelling head of scream as the stark brand of Witchfinder General shock value rears its head in the most startling of codas. This intelligent original represents a commendable break from the genre norm and is one of the most powerful films made about God, the godless and what the Devil truly represents."
- Klein, James (2011-02-24). "Christopher Smith, Interview with the Director of Black Death". UnRated Film Magazine. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
- "BLACK DEATH (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 8 February 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- "Black Death (2011) - International Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Felperin, Leslie (2010-02-22). "Berlin – Black Death Review". Variety. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- 'Nix' (2010-01-06). "Finally Some Decent Looks at Chris Smith's Black Death". Beyond Hollywood. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- Bilson, Anne (2010-03-11). "Culture: The Return of Religious Films". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-04-04.
- Kemp, Stuart (2008-02-02). "Three Join Battle in Sax's "Death"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2010-04-04.[dead link]
- Rotten, Ryan (2008-11-28). "Chris Smith Takes Over Black Death". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- Sharpe, Jo (2010-03-19). "Chris Smith Takes Over Black Death". The Mighty Bean. Retrieved 2010-03-19.
- Blaney, Martin (2009-05-15). "HanWay Films sells "Black Death" to 12 Distributors". Screen International. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- Rotten, Ryan (2010-01-29). "Director Chris Smith on Black Death". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- "Black Death". Revolver Entertainment. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- Miska, Brad (2010-07-07). "Fantasia 2010: New Stills: Chris Smith's Black Death". Dread Central. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
- Jones, Alan. "Film4 FrightFest – Black Death Review". Film4. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- Official website
- Black Death at the Internet Movie Database
- Black Death at Box Office Mojo
- Black Death at Rotten Tomatoes
- Black Death at Metacritic
- Interview with Dario Poloni