Black Death

Black Death


Reviewed by: James Benefield

By the year 1400, the black death had killed between 30 and 60 per cent of Europe's inhabitants. In a world before any scientific knowledge of bacteria and viruses, people looked for a cause. Women, Jews, the wrath of God - all were possible culprits.

In Black Death, the cause - or perhaps the cure - lies in necromancy. Suspicions are aroused when the Church learns of a village which has been largely unaffected by this plague. A bishop assembles a group of men to investigate the place. The group is led by Ulric (a rumpled, moody Sean Bean) a man who believes God has instructed him to perform this task. A young monk, Osmund (a cherubic Eddie Remayne) is appointed as his spiritual advisor.

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Yet the trek to the village is long and problematic - both for the group and for the audience. One of the men contracts plague and is immediately disposed of by a compatriot. The monk chooses the quest over the woman he loves, failing to meet her at some crossroads and leaving her alone with the spectre of disease. These tough decisions mean the group don't arrive at the village until halfway through the movie.

This wouldn't be a problem if the narrative had previously sewn the seeds of necromancy. Instead it does feel like a film of two halves. The first is gritty and grotty, existing somewhere between Bergman's The Virgin Spring and Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings movies. There's a lot of unpleasantness and portentousness, interrupted by a handful of battle scenes with a swashbuckling Sean Bean in chainmail. The second - and more successful - half is the bastard child of The Wicker Man and Deliverance.

The film is not a complete mess; it's all presented in effective bleached shaky cam, with a standout performance by Remayne. The performance is a relief, as it smooths the crack of his otherwise dodgy character arc - somewhat distractingly, Osmund goes from a lifeless, anguished monk to an action hero in a matter of minutes. Both the visual pseudo-monochrome and the intrusive camera work create a feeling of sinister dread, which its Anglo-German filming locations cement.

Reviewed on: 23 May 2010
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During the plague years a young monk is sent to investigate reports of the dead being restored to life.
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Director: Christopher Smith

Writer: Dario Poloni

Starring: Sean Bean, Eddie Remayne, Carice van Houten, David Warner, Tim McInnerney

Year: 2010

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Germany


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