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.
In 1348 in a plague-ridden medieval England, Osmund, a young monk, is in love despite his vows with a girl named Averill, who tells him that when she leaves the monastery to escape the disease, she will wait for him for one week at a meeting place in the forest so they can run away together. Shortly after, a group of mercenaries led by the knight Ulric arrives and takes Osmund as a guide on a quest in the forest, which Ulric later reveals to be a search for a remote marshland village which has remained untouched by the Black Death, and is said to sacrifice people in order to remain free of the plague and to be led by a necromancer whom the group intends to bring back to the Bishop.
On the way to the village, Osmund leaves the group while they are sleeping to meet with Averill at their meeting spot, but only finds her horse and torn blood-stained clothing. The group is attacked by bandits, resulting in Osmund being severely wounded, and ultimately find the village, an eerie disease-free utopia led by a beautiful woman, Langiva. Pretending to seek shelter to draw the necromancer out, the group grows suspicious of the villagers, as they find evidence of the passage of another group previously sent before them.
Langiva takes Osmund to the body of Averill, claiming to have found her injured in the woods. That night, while the town has a feast to welcome their guests, Langiva leads Osmund into the forest where many women are performing a ritual during which Langiva appears to raise Averill from the dead. Osmund finds the crucified corpses of previous men sent by the church, and the entire group is taken prisoner and tied in a pit of water. Revealing that they know of the group's true intentions, Langiva and the villagers invite the group to renounce God, leading to one being killed; another accepts, but is killed in secret anyway. Langiva tells Osmund that if he renounces God, he will be reunited with a resurrected Averill; however, Osmund realizes that despite looking alive, she cannot speak or even recognize him, and as the result kills her to free her soul from her undead state. As he is beaten up by the villagers, Osmund manages to drop a knife next to the remaining prisoners. Before being executed, Ulric reveals that he is infected with the plague, and as such, he has been infecting the water pit ever since the group got trapped in it, therefore infecting the previously plague-free village; his gruesome execution only makes the infection more certain.
After the surviving mercenaries free themselves and fight the villagers, Langiva claims to Osmund that she was never a witch, but simply a herbalist who is skilled with plants and drugs, and that Averill had never been dead at all; instead, she had simply been drugged, meaning that Osmund actually killed her. She then disappears into the mist and escapes. Osmund and the last surviving mercenary finally leave the village, bringing Langiva's second-in-command back to the Church. In the following years, the village becomes touched by the plague, while Osmund loses his heart, growing cold and cruel, dedicating himself to find Langiva; he punishes countless women in the name of God, believing them to be Langiva, and having seemingly lost his mind.
- 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 Swire
- 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. 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 to 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 these 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 distributed the film in Germany. The film is part of the Canadian Fantasia 2010.
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Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes provides links to 59 reviews of the film, 68% of which are positive. 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."
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- "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.
- "Black Death press release". Magnet Pictures. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
- Kemp, Stuart (2008-02-02). "Three Join Battle in Sax's "Death"". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2013-01-26. Retrieved 2010-04-04.
- 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. Archived from the original on 9 March 2010. 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. Archived from the original on 27 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-03.