Director – Christopher Smith
Cast – Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, David Warner, Carice van Houten, Kimberly Nixon, David Masterson, Tim McInnerny, John Lynch, Johnny Harris, Andy Nyman, Emun Elliott, Tygo Gernandt
Release Year – 2011
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I first became a fan of UK director Christopher Smith with his 2006 horror/comedy Severance, and after enjoying his subsequent film Triangle as well as his debut film Creep, I must say that this guy is one of horror’s best modern day directors. Sadly, I must also say that because of the lack of popularity of his films…he is also horror’s most underrated modern day director. When I learned of his newest film, Black Death, I was immediately intrigued by the film’s awesome plot, which I knew would come coupled with Smith’s great direction. Well, I can honestly say that the film’s awesome plot definitely delivers, and to no surprise Smith’s direction was great, and made this a very enjoyable watch in the end.
The film takes place in 14th century England during the early days of infection resulting from the bubonic plague. Sean Bean(The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Silent Hill) stars as Ulric, a devout Catholic soldier sent on a mission from the high bishop to investigate a secluded colony of pagans who he believes are using black magic to keep the plague away from them, as well as raise the dead. Ulric enlists the help of a young monk, Osmund(Eddie Redmayne), to guide them and alert them of whatever presence of evil is residing in the colony. When they arrive at the colony they are greeted by odd yet gracious hosts, but soon enough the true evil within the colony rises, and the soldiers and monk are forced to an ultimatum that they never saw coming.
I normally try not to go into a film with high expectations, but I could not help expecting to enjoy this film, and I am glad that Black Death met my high expectations. England’s dark days of the bubonic plague have always interested me, so it was nice to see this huge historical element put into a horror film. I am also a fan of religious horror, especially involving Catholicism, so that was a nice byproduct thrown into the film that only further grasped my interest.
The Wicker Man remains one of my favorite horror films of all time, so the idea of our protagonists going to a secluded island-esque colony of pagans was an awesome idea that made this plot one of the cooler ones I have seen in recent years. We get many awesome characters thrown in, especially Ulric and Osmund, which turns this flick into a character film as much as it is a horror film. Because of this the flick does move slow at times, but we are given great direction and awesome developments that keep you from losing interest in what is going on. I really loved to see just how devoted these men were to their cause, which is something that I can always admire regardless of what it is. In the case of Black Death it is servitude to God, and this film was so well written that it should appeal too all who respect good writing. To make even better is the fact that our protagonists are tempted in multiple fashions to leave their cause, with some of those scenarios guaranteed certain death if they do not renounce their faith, and delivering some darn good conflict as a result. We also get some well-written antagonists as well, and they do a fantastic job of bringing some good tension on their behalf. Most lesser-films deliver some useless characters that provide nothing to the plot, but that never happens in this watch, and I commend writer Dario Poloni(Wilderness) for delivering a fantastic story and screenplay.
At the climax of this film I asked myself “How the hell does Christopher Smith constantly deliver good films?”, and while I do not have a fully detailed answer I can at least tell you one big reason why he has accomplished so much in so little time…he is damn good at what he does. He has given us four films since 2004(Creep, Severance, Triangle, Black Death), and every one of them has not only delivered great horror, but each has centered on a different sub-genre of horror. As in each of his films he once again employs great sets and awesome camerawork, and actually throws in a fair amount of action in this flick in comparison to his other films. Most of the action comes in the form of some good medieval fighting between the soldiers, looters, and pagans, and we also get a decent amount of gore thrown into the mix. Smith’s execution of his actors is top-notch, and it plays very well coupled with the awesome dialogue written by Dario Poloni. I mentioned earlier that the film does move a bit slow, but the execution of both writing and direction that kept me from ever losing interest in what was going on.
Speaking of great writing and direction, the third act of the film was highly engaging and was definitely the focal point of Black Death. We get nothing but downright awesomeness coming from great conflict and tension, mixed in with some sweet kills and a satisfying bittersweet climax to one of England’s darkest chapters in its history.
Overall, Black Death is a solid and well executed film that delivers an awesome story with great direction. The conflict and tension are high, and the film moves gracefully thanks to good performances from all and fantastic execution of every element involved. I recommend this film to anyone looking for a unique horror film involving the bubonic plague, or to those of you who want to see what all my fuss over Christopher Smith is about.