Monday, October 10, 2011

Black Death

2011 is the year of the action/horror/historical plague-themed movie, it seems.  First we were "blessed" with Nicolas Cage's Season of the Witch and now I have found Black DeathSeason of the Witch was pretty awful, but it managed to garner a wide theatrical release; Black Death hit a festival last Fall before going straight to DVD, which makes it sound even less appetizing than the surprisingly witch-less Season.  Still, I have sworn to go all month reviewing nothing but horror, and I haven't seen all that many movies from 2011, so here I am with another plague movie on my hands.

The year is 1348, the place is England, and the population is dwindling, thanks to the black plague.  One of the youngest monks at a monastery, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), has sinned against God by falling in love with a woman, despite his vows.  The plague is overwhelming the monastery, so Osmund urges his lady, Averill (Kimberly Nixon), to leave (she had taken refuge there) and return to the forest where they both originated from.  So...they're Ewoks?  Perhaps.  She wants Osmund to go with, but he will not break his allegiance to the church.  She promises to wait for him at dawn each morning for a week at a certain landmark, but promises a final end to their relationship if he doesn't show.  What is a horny young monk to do?
Dirty minds!

As luck would have it, Ulric (Sean Bean), a knight of the church, arrives at the monastery, asking the lead monk (David Warner) for a guide.  It seems that there is a small village that has been left untouched by the plague.  Worse, there is a rumor floating around that this un-plagued village has forsaken Christianity.  With so many assuming that the disease is God's revenge upon sinners, the church worries that the Godless village might inspire others to renounce their faith to avoid the plague.  As luck would have it, the village in question is very difficult to find, unless you happened to grow up in the forest area.  Osmund sees this as a sign that he should quit the church and join Averill, so he agrees to guide Ulric's squad.  The job doesn't turn out to be exactly what Osmund had in mind, though; Ulric isn't looking to investigate the village, so much as he wants to identify and kill the blasphemous town leader, who is rumored to be a necromancer.  In other words, this story has knights, plague death, a star-crossed romance, and witchcraft and/or wizardry.  Not bad for straight-to-DVD.
...and it has Boy Band harmonies!  Not really.

The acting isn't fantastic in Black Death, but it is certainly within the realm of acceptability.  Sean Bean plays a no-nonsense knight well enough; a late revelation about his character makes him seem like a huge dick, but it's still within his character's reasonable range.  The rest of his band of killers are nothing special, but Andy Nyman and Johnny Harris were a little better than the rest.  I was surprised to find that I was not annoyed with Eddie Redmayne's performance; while his character starts down the path toward being pretty snivelly and obnoxious, it seems that the script and Redmayne were just psyching the audience out.  I ended up liking his wimpy character.  Kimberly Nixon played his lady love, and she was fine in that small part.  The leaders of the village, Tim McInnerny and Carice van Houten, managed to seem fairly reasonable in the face of knights that were out to kill them.  I thought that van Houten played her part very well, and I was pleased with her character's fate.
Her fate?  To resemble a vampire

Christopher Smith's direction is pretty decent.  The acting manages to not be over the top, the scenes make sense, and there are a couple of twists that both made sense and were mildly surprising.  Smith never succeeds in making the audience invest in these characters too much, but I still found myself pleasantly surprised by the film's climax and falling action.  There is enough gore in the battle scenes to please most horror fans; severed limbs and crushed heads should and do happen in these medieval battles.  Sadly, the only battle is early on in the film, which made me think this would be a bloodier and more action-packed film than it turned out to be.  That's not a bad thing, but it made the pacing of the film seem a little odd. 

On the whole, though, Black Death progressed in a similar fashion to The Wicker Man.  It was a little slow, but a pretty effective little flick.  The pacing also kept the tone from getting too tense, which prevents it from being a truly successful horror movie.  Still, Black Death managed to feel like a decently accurate portrayal of the Middle Ages, with some solid twists.

Once again, I watched a film with witches/warlocks in it, and all it made me want to do was listen to some abrasive Liars music.  Here's a track from their witchy-themed album, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned.

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