What a great movie! Black Death is centered around a young monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) in love during the time of the first bubonic plague who leaves his abbey to lead a group of Catholic soldiers (led by Sean Bean) sent to investigate a village whose residents have been unaffected by the plague. Ulrich (Sean Bean) believes the village to be led by a witch who has made a pact with Satan. Osmund, who was raised in the Abbey, is warned by his leader that the world out there will change him.
And yes it does.
Osmund’s lover before she leaves tells him she will meet him at a certain place. Once his encampment reaches this place, Osmund goes to meet her and is attacked by a group of savages. The soldiers are able to slaughter them rather easily but one of their own is killed in the process, and Osmund is led to believe that his girlfriend was killed by them.
Licking their wounds, they stumble upon their destination seeking refuge and medical attention. And it is at this point that things become really messy.
It’s tough for me to review this film for fear of spoiling too much of the plot for those who haven’t seen it. It’s an interesting film from a spiritual/philosophical point of view, a lot in the same way like the original The Wicker Man is. There are people who watch that movie and think that it is respectful to both Pagans and Christians, and I can see people coming away with the same thoughts here (though Black Death gives a bit more validation for the pagan side of that debate than The Wicker Man).
Then there are those who will take sides in the conflict.
If you look at the IMDB page there are lots of conflicting view points saying that the movie is “pro-Christianity” or “pro-Pagan”, and anyone who claims either of these things is missing the point. The film’s main character is a Christian, but it’s not about the superiority of his faith, it’s about the fallibility of him as a man. He is caught in the middle of the conflict of the brutal soldiers and the pagans and teeters on the edge of what he believes/wants until a final, damning decision in the film that decides the path he will take.
This is a film about conflicting ideologies and fantastical hysteria used to justify horrific actions by both sides during a very desperate period of time and how it destroys what one young man stands for.
Director Christopher Smith is someone whose previous works Creep and Severance are fun movies that I liked but never really fell in love with. Watching either of them you’d never expect something this mature out of him. After watching Black Death it has made me want to re-watch his earlier works. It feels like a lost movie from the 70’s, very brutal, heavy, and unforgiving. A film designed to make you think and draw a reaction out of the viewer.
Black Death is currently streaming on Netflix and I can not recommend it enough.