Black Death (film)
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (February 2013)|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Christopher Smith|
|Produced by||Douglas Rae
|Written by||Dario Poloni|
Carice van Houten
|Music by||Christian Henson|
|Editing by||Stuart Gazzard|
|Studio||Egoli Tossell Film
|Distributed by||Revolver Entertainment (UK)
Wild Bunch (Germany)
Magnet Releasing (US)
|Running time||97 minutes|
The story takes place in 1348 in plague-ridden medieval England. Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a young monk, has unbeknownst to his brothers fallen in love with Averill (Kimberley Nixon), a young girl who took sanctuary in the monastery. He believes it is no longer safe and sends her home to the forest. She asks him to join her, but he declines on account of his vows, after which she tells him she will wait for him at the edge of the forest by a marker for one week. Soon after, Osmund prays that God will give him a sign, as he wishes to leave to join her. As he is doing so, a group of soldiers enters the Church looking for a guide to a village not far from where Osmund's love Averill was to wait for him. Osmund takes this as a sign and volunteers to lead the knight Ulric (Sean Bean) and a group of soldiers 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. Ulric's group consists of the experienced leader Wolfstan (John Lynch), Wolfstan's longtime friend Griff (Jamie Ballard), torturer Dalywag (Andy Nyman), the fearless Mold (Johnny Harris), the mute Ivo (Tygo Gernandt), and the charismatic Swire (Emun Elliott).
The journey is beset with harrowing pitfalls, as Griff is killed by Wolfstan after revealing he has been stricken with the plague and Ivo is slain in a battle with bandits. Upon reaching the marshes, Osmund only finds bloodied clothing and believes Averill to be dead. Ulric's envoy finds the village, an eerie utopia led by Hob (Tim McInnerny) and Langiva (Carice van Houten). Not knowing who is the necromancer, Ulric tells the townsfolk he and his soldiers are simply seeking a place to rest. Seeing the church falling into disrepair from lack of use, Ulric is suspicious, but nonetheless accepts an invitation for him and his soldiers to come to dinner. Before dinner, Langiva shows Osmund Averill's body and tells him the villagers found it in the forest. Averill is pale with a wound to her head and appears to have died several days ago. During the dinner, Osmund is lured away by Langiva into the marshes, where he sees her perform a pagan ritual and Averill is brought back to life. Back at the dinner, Ulric and his men begin fading into sleep as they realise their drinks have been drugged.
Ulric's band and Osmund awake bound and caged in a water-filled pit. Langiva and Hob offer freedom for those who renounce God. None do so and all boldly vie for who will be executed first. Dalywag is led out to an X-shaped cross and crucified, then disemboweled by Hob. Upon seeing this, Swire offers to renounce God and verbally does so at Hob's prompting, after which he is taken away, hooded with a bag and hanged. Langiva then frees Osmund and directs him to the hut where the resurrected Averill resides. Inside, Osmund sees his beloved Averill incoherent and stumbling, apparently mentally traumatized. Seeing what has become of her as an abomination, Osmund tearfully apologises to her and tells her he will see her again in Purgatory. He then stabs her and watches her die. Osmund then returns to the cage and lays down the body of Averill. He attacks Langiva by slicing her across her cheek but is struck down and subdued.
Reinvigorated, Ulric goads and jeers her that not one of his men will turn from God. In anger, Langiva has Ulric tied between two horses to be dismembered unless he renounces God. As the horses strain his limbs, Ulric reveals that he is sick with the disease, and thus will deliver the plague to these villagers. In the commotion, Langiva does not notice that the knife Osmund slashed her with had landed near the cage when he was struck down. Riveted by the spectacle of Ulric finally being torn into pieces, the villagers are caught unaware as Wolfstan and Mold cut their ropes, escape the cage, and fight off the villagers that didn't run away. During the fight, Mold is killed by Hob, who is subsequently incapacitated by Wolfstan and placed in the device intended for transporting the necromancer.
Osmund notices Langiva retreating to the swamp, so he grabs a short sword and follows her into the fog of the marsh. There, she claims that Averill had not been dead, but that the villagers had found her and Langiva had drugged her to appear dead, then put on the pagan ritual to "raise" her from the dead to convince Osmund of her power. She reveals that she uses this illusion to retain leadership of the village. Osmund returns to the village and Langiva skulks away into the marshes, leaving the viewer unsure whether Langiva was a witch and if her last speech to Osmund was another attempt to make him forsake God. Osmund is then brought home to the monastery by Wolfstan, with Hob to be delivered to the Bishop.
In the aftermath, what was left of the villagers are ravaged by the plague; the "witch" had not protected the village, rather, the plague had not yet reached the village due to its remoteness. Wolfstan notes there have been rumors that Osmund became a soldier and set about hunting down, torturing, and burning women accused of being witches, in a quest to bring Langiva to justice and assuage his guilt. It is not known whether he ever found the true Langiva again or whether he simply sees Langiva in the faces of the women he executes.
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 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.
He 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.
Black Death has received mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes provides links to 56 reviews of the film, 68% of which are positive, ranking it "Certified Fresh". The critical consensus is that the film "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."
See also 
- NY Times, March 10, 2011: ‘Black Death’ and Dark Ages Drama|Retrieved 2013-02-07
- 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.
- Jones, Alan. "Film4 FrightFest – Black Death Review". Film4. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
- Official website
- Black Death at AllRovi
- Black Death at Box Office Mojo
- Black Death at the Internet Movie Database
- Black Death at Rotten Tomatoes
- Interview with Dario Poloni