Black Death is a horror-mystery film by director Christopher Smith and written by Dario Poloni. A young monk is tasked to lead a band of rouge warriors to a small village left un-touched by the bubonic plague, that ravaged Europe in the 14-century. I’m a HUGE fan of these film types. So much so, that the games I play almost always reflect to this specific genre, or venture close to it. I can go into my current Skyrim obsession, where the world is barbaric, and in order to survive, you slay dragons, the un-dead–a perilous journey to right the wrongs in the world. I can go on and on about Skyrim, but will save that one for another post.
Towards the end of the 13th century, the plague festered in small townships where the majority of its citizen’s primary jobs were to remove the dead–and keeping a keen eye on who will be sick next. Many believed that the “wrath of God” was upon them. The reality of the situation was that the rats were infected with a parasitic flea, the Oriental rat flea, which was one of the main causes of the plague. The fleas fed on the rats; the infected rats infected the uninfected fleas that fed on them; then, with the rats dying, the infected fleas began to bite humans (Pravada, 2009). In addition, hygiene wasn’t on the list of importance at the time, hence, the rapid spread of the plague. Doctors during those times did not know nor understand the disease. One of the more prevalent plague doctors of the time, Nostradamus, advised that people boil their water, clean their linens regularly, and if possible, leave the infected towns.
“One hypothesis about the epidemiology (the appearance, spread, and especially disappearance) of plague from Europe, is that the flea-bearing rodent reservoir of disease was eventually succeeded by another species. The Black Rat (Rattus rattus) was originally introduced from Asia to Europe by trade, but was subsequently displaced and succeeded throughout Europe by the bigger Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus). The brown rat was not as prone to transmit the germ-bearing fleas to humans in large die-offs due to a different rat ecology. The dynamic complexities of rat ecology, herd immunity in that reservoir, interaction with human ecology, secondary transmission routes between humans with or without fleas, human herd immunity, and changes in each might explain the eruption, dissemination, and re-eruptions of plague that continued for centuries until its (even more) unexplained disappearance.” (Pravda.ru, 2009).
Deliciously violent, Black Death is a brilliant horror film about the disastrous bubonic plague, filmed in medieval fascination. Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), is a young monk is in conflict with himself and with the morals of the church, who is secretly, love with a young maiden who lives in a town near the monastery. The town is being ravaged by the plague, and he sends her away with a promise to find her soon. Of course, she wants him to go with her. But he is torn. He loves her…and the church. He prays for an opportunity–an intervention from the lord–to help him to decide. His answer came in Ulric (Sean Bean), tasked to lead a band of holy warriors to a village in the swamp believed to practice necromancy.
Osmund volunteers for the opportunity, due to ulterior motives–as he truly wanted to reunite with his beloved, Averill (Kimberley Nixon); also out of an act of faith–at first, he believed these men to be true Christians. Osmund later found that he was leading a band of murderers, rapists, and thieves–who pillaged, raped, and murdered–in the name of God. What these grand representatives of the cloth are unaware of is Osmund’s true intentions to leave the group to meet with Averill at a secret rendezvous point.
Eventually, our band of fanatical Christians find out the truth, but before they can blast our poor monk for being a hypocrite–the war begins. The road becomes perilous soon, the movie is no longer about the plague, it is a battle between the villagers and in the center of it all–is a witch.
In the beginning, the film does drag along a bit. Thereafter, it takes you into the madness and fear that surrounds the plague, you see the brutality laid out in front of you; men flogging themselves across their backs and chanting, women being burned as witches, and the dead, pustular bodies litter towns; the mounds of human bodies being burned–the fog weighing heavily on the ground from the burning carcasses. The film is a gritty, constant battle between faith and reason. It seems that director Christopher Smith made all the right appearance choices that made this film what it is: prevalent gloom, doom, and fanatical religious misguidance.
Overall, the film is tremendously dark and engaging, as much as it is entertaining. The strong performances by each of the religious warriors were not undermined by the presence of leading man Sean Bean as Ulrich. He maintained a mostly silent and intimidating persona. But when the mystery revealed the truth behind the village, in an instant, you witness the brutality and mercilessness in his actions–persuading his companions to kill–in the name of the Lord.
‘In an age of darkness one man will face the ultimate battle against evil.’
Pravda.ru. (2009, September 02). Nostradamus was most famous plague doctor during black death years. Retrieved from http://english.pravda.ru/science/earth/09-02-2009/107080-nostradamus_black_death-0/
Image source: Magnet