Black Death
dir Christopher Smith
scr Dario Poloni
prd Robert Bernstein, Jens Meurer, Douglas Rae, Phil Robertson
with Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Carice van Houten, Kimberley Nixon, David Warner, Tim McInnerny, John Lynch, Andy Nyman, Jamie Ballard, Thorsten Querner, Johnny Harris, Tygo Gernandt
release UK 11.Jun.10
10/UK 1h42
Black Death
Something wicked this way comes: Bean, Redmayne and gang

vanhouten nixon warner
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Black Death This medieval thriller is cleverly shot and edited to crank up quite a bit of tension, even as the over-the-top grisliness and wacky religious overtones make it nothing much more than a cheap thrill.

Osmund (Redmayne) is a young monk in 1384 England just as the plague is breaking out. The question is whether it's a curse from God or caused by evil in the world. Then the Bishop's envoy Ulric (Bean) arrives with news that an isolated village is somehow pestilence free. Drafting Osmund as a guide, the team heads off to confront what is no doubt pure evil, and indeed when they arrive they meet the village leader Langiva (van Houten), who has turned her back on the Church and created a creepy idyll.

Filmmaker Smith is terrific at finding humour and humanity in violent situations, and here he relies on his three lead actors to create vivid characters that add a bit of weight to the gore-fest. Redmayne gives Osmund a remarkably introspective personality that actually makes us think he's making some deep moral decisions; Bean is grim and brutish but also reflects some nuance in the situations; and van Houten makes Langiva seductive and suggestive, which is much more interesting than the standard wild-eyed earth mother.

But of course this is essentially an evil village movie, as a band of hapless men stumble right into the middle of a community that seems to have made a pact with the devil. They may be travelling with a wagonload of nasty Inquisition-type implements, but that's nothing compared to what they'll come up against. The result is a lot of shouting, bloodletting and overacting, as Smith layers in sinister effects and eerie music.

There may be some serious themes involved, plus unsubtle War on Terror parallels, but the filmmakers are more interested in playing around with cultural iconography, with disused churches, hooded rituals in the woods and even zombie apparitions to spice things up. The filmmaking itself is first-rate, and Poloni's script isn't afraid to really go for a cold, hard finale. Even if it's ultimately nothing more than a B-movie, it's still gruesome good fun.

cert 15 themes, grisly violence, language 28.Jan.10

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Black Death Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall