The Reel Review
A young monk in 1348 England leads a religious envoy and his mercenaries to an isolated village where a necromancer is rumored to be bringing the dead back to life during the catastrophic global pandemic, The Black Death. Eddie Redmayne and Game of Thrones veterans Sean Bean and Carice von Houton star in this 2010 period horror/mystery.
With an appropriately creepy, medieval setting and a chilling score, director Christopher Smith delivers plenty of gruesome battle scenes featuring a slew of weapons from the era as well as some cringey bubonic gore. Redmayne is convincing as the novice monk having a crisis of faith over the fate of his secret girlfriend, with Bean and von Houten giving viewers all the religious horror vibes. John Lynch (In the Name of the Father) and John Warner (Titanic, The Omen) lead the supporting cast as one of the mercenaries and as the head of the abbey.
A bit more insight into the hopeless, end-of-the-world despair that survivors experienced during the pandemic and a lot more historical accuracy (there was no documentation of witch burning in the 1300s) would have been a welcomed dose of realism. But even so, with a twist-filled story that turns the tables on misogynistic religious zealotry, Smith keeps his low budget drama taut and intense, capping his tale with a morbidly gruesome climax and an even more unsettling, albeit somewhat tacked-on, finalé.
• From 1346 to 1353, The Black Death, as it is called today, killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people – about half of the people in Europe and a third of those in the Middle East. The believed source of the world’s deadliest plague was a bacteria carried by fleas on rats in the Tian Shan mountains between modern-day Kyrgyzstan and China.
• The original script from Dario Poloni had a way more supernatural second half, but director Christopher Smith rewrote it to make Hell less literal and more of a psychological state of mind.
• Although set in England, Black Death was filmed in Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg, Germany.