Saturday 2 January 2016


(Christopher Smith, 2010)

Christopher Smith's Black Death follows a disillusioned monk (Eddie Redmayne) and a jaded bunch of Mercenaries during the 14th Century plague outbreak as they journey into eerie marshlands in search of a town reputedly free of infection. Financed and shot in Germany, Smith's film works off some uniquely British influences. It seems to refer to three cult classics which all investigate the old, weird Britain of isolated rural communities and surviving pagan traditions; The Wicker ManBlood on Satans Claw and Witchfinder General. In Smith's film, the Mercenaries, led by Sean Bean's iron-willed homicidal zealot, are searching for Witchcraft and they get that and more in this creepily mellow community (a sidelong suggestion of contemporary New Age worship is set with the costume design). The directors three previous films were all horror movies and he does a fine job here of maintaining a sense of dread and foreboding throughout, though the avoidance of the supernatural and ultimately human nature of the evil they encounter adds to this film's pessimistic impact. The coda is devastating, and if Black Death does have some aesthetic ambition, it's heart seems resolutely pulpy. It's battle scenes are filmed with real relish and gory aplomb and Smith has described it as a "medieval men on a mission movie" which is as good a description of half of its appeal as any I can formulate. There are quieter, almost meditative moments in Black Death, however, and passages of it reminded me fleetingly of Andrei Tarkovsky and most particularly his extraordinary Medieval Epic, Andrei Rublev. In other words, this is a fascinating little movie.

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