Sean Bean stars in this historically rooted horror-thriller as Ulric, a church-appointed knight in the age of the Bubonic Plague’s first wave who’s tasked with investigating rumors of a woman (Carice van Houten) who can bring the dead back to life. A young monk (Eddie Redmayne) named Osmund is aiding Ulric on his quest to root out the necromancer — and to determine whether or not she has ties to Satan.
Rating: 9 out of 10
When I saw the trailer for “Black Death,” I thought there was no way they couldn’t screw it up. It looked promising but seemed to focus a lot on the medieval torture devices that the Christians used on who they believed were heretics. I was flat out wrong. “Black Death” not only makes almost zero missteps, but I’m proud to say it’s the first great film of 2011.
What makes “Black Death” truly stand out is showing the darkness of human nature. There are no heroes here. You have flawed men and women trying to survive during a period where the worst plague in human history is storming the land and the church is blaming it on demonic forces. So, not only are our characters fighting against a faceless enemy in the plague but an inner plague in the downfall of men supposedly serving God. The main characters, on orders from the bishop, are going to a land that has not been touched by the plague, and is flourishing despite the worldwide outbreak. They bring their torture devices and want to find the heretic and rid the demonic forces that have rejected God and used witchcraft to keep their town safe and healthy. Now, if that was actually all true, I would say it sounds boring. There are so many twists, surprises, and plot benders that it keeps the film moving in a very dark direction that is worthy of its title. Now, I wouldn’t dare give any of them away here but let’s say it brings up several question: What makes a person evil? Is God truly present, and if so, why does he make these people suffer? There are many others and they are all profound. Director Christopher Smith holds it all together and gives the film such a uniquely dark and bleak visual style that is a perfect complement to the story. Grays are very gray, blacks are very black, and colors are washed out and flat. The look feels as helpless as the characters. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Eddie Redmayne, who plays the young monk that volunteers to guide the holy crusaders to their destination. There is a real journey to his character and he is spellbinding in the role. I know it will be long forgotten by next year’s Oscars, but consideration for best supporting actor is not out of the question. So, for those with strong stomachs (it is very violent) and can handle dark stories (boy, is it ever) I highly recommend “Black Death.”