Compiled by Jordan and Eddie on 30/10/2015
The fumes of the dead are in the air like poison. The plague, more cruel and more pitiless than war, descended upon us. A pestilence, that would leave half of our kingdom dead. Where did it come from? What carried its germ. The priests told us it was God’s punishment. For what sin? What commandment must we break that could earn this? No, we knew the truth. This was not God’s work, but devilry. Or witchcraft. But our task, to hunt down a demon, was God’s cure.
In 2010 a film crept into public knowledge with little theatrical fanfare but a glut of critical praise from lovers of art-house and independent horror, including industry vet Alan Jones and The New York Times. The film was Black Death. It’s director, Christopher Smith, had previously endeared himself to horror fans with his debut Creep and gory follow-up Severance, and it’s to his credit that this, his biggest risk, stands stoically and surrounded by intrigue a proud film.
Here at Jordan and Eddie, we wanted to share our thoughts as to why this is an underrated gem worthy of wider attention. Consider it our pick in a now established and fictional film club.
Shot in Germany with a British cast of opposing strengths and a director who had never previously dabbled with a seriously minded narrative, you could forgive Black Death for culminating in a brave attempt at significance having fallen short of its endeavor with an uneven tone and sporadically decent acting. Thankfully, that is not how history played out.
Here is a movie that succeeds tremendously against all odds, breathing authentically polluted life into its Medieval setting and coaxing faultless genre performances from its stars and secondary players alike. The acting, strangely enough in a low budget horror title, is where the power lies. Sean Bean owns the screen with his imposing presence and intimidating scowl, as he commands a rag tag crew high on blood lust in a land of witch burning and deathly disease, and Eddie Redmayne too, cast against type and needing to provide an emotional anchor, succeeds in his attempts at conveying deep inner turmoil up until a plot twist changes his desires for good.
This is a serious journey that required stern determination and commitment from all involved to overcome a narrative that contentiously dabbles in the supernatural, and though subsequently unrelenting in his pessimism and bleakness, it’s never anything but fascinating to watch. Whether you’re contemplating the foreboding themes, basking in the gloomy surroundings or wincing at the sight of swords, ropes and torture chambers being put to use, there’s something to unreservedly respect about Black Death: an important film that transcends its modest roots.
Everyone loves a good “men on a mission” movie, from the big daddy of them all Lord of the Rings through to other gems like Saving Private Ryan, Aliens, Predator and Apocalypse Now, it’s a sub-genre that has often provided us with some of cinemas best offerings.
In recent years the simple idea of a group banding together to accomplish a goal has somewhat died down but the 2010 effort of Black Death as directed by the talented and under-loved Christopher Smith (while I didn’t enjoy his 2009 effort Triangle, Jordan I know is a big backer) is both a fine example of the simple joys to be found in the idea and also a unique, unsettling journey to the middle ages of England that deserves to be discovered by more movie lovers.
Featuring a winning cast that’s led by the committed Sean Bean and a pre-Oscar winning Eddie Redmayne, Black Death attacks its subject matter with vigor and goes to places that one doesn’t suspect. There’s blood, guts and chills but there’s also some fascinating commentary on religion and faith and while the film borders the supernatural in many ways, Black Death is first and foremost grounded in a reality that elevates it above other similar fare.
The idea of a story such as this taking place during the outbreak of the pneumonic plague may not be entirely original in itself, but Smith’s film tackles the subject in a way that feels fresh and the film has an energy about it that’s led by a group of actors who take on their roles with a zeal and relish that is often missing in other low budgeted films of the same ilk as Black Death.
Not a flawless film by any means and arguably not even a classic of its kind but Black Death is the type of film that deserves to be watched and a film that deserves a larger audience than it was awarded upon release those many moons ago.
Have you seen Black Death? If so we’d love to hear from you in the comments below no matter if you loved or hated it!