Original Title: Black Death
Country: Germany, UK
Director: Christopher Smith
Genre: Action, Adventure
Late June, I realized my eyesight was kind of shit, even when completely sober I was seeing double. The sight was fucked up in a way that it became very uncomfortable to keep writing.
Then, I decided I should go to an eye specialist and for nobody’s surprise, he gave me a prescription to glasses and now, after more than a month without updating the Blog, and it’s time for a comeback.
Nothing really changed in my current schedule, but in the meantime, I noticed that this movie is available on Netflix, so if you want to check it out, now might be the time.
Right now, let’s get to business.
Released in 2010, Black Death was a much underrated and not very well known movie directed by Christopher Smith, who directed many movies I never watched.
Set in 1348, a group of mercenaries travels in search of a village where is said to be home for a Necromancer. They believe the Necromancer might be the reason for the epidemic of bubonic plague decimating their people.
I will talk more about the specifics of the film later.
Among the themes presented in the movie, there are the aforementioned Necromancer and bubonic plague, as well as the Witchcraft and torture. Themes previously mentioned in the “Seventh Seal” review.
Let’s use the dictionary first.
For the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Necromancy” is “conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events.”
The Online Etymology Dictionary defines the same term as “divination by communication with the dead”, basically the same thing as the Merriam-Webster, but in different words.
As for the origin of the term, the Online Etymology Dictionary explains that it comes from the Greek “nekromanteia”, “Nekro” meaning “dead body” and “Manteia” meaning “divination.
As for Necromancer being the practitioner of Necromancy, someone who communicates with the dead with the goal of predicting or foreseeing the future.
The definitions we see are quite different from what the movie presents. The film presents a fantastic view from necromancy commonly spread in the popular culture, as some sort of witchcraft to raise the dead.
In the movie, there is also the work with various herbs used as medicine, and that’s a practice in many cultures and faiths and it’s something that is done to this day. As far as I know, there is no connection between necromancy and this work with herbs.
During the outbreak of bubonic plague in England, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a young monk is divided between his vows and the girls he is in love, Averill (Kimberley Nixon).
Anguished by doubt around the choice he has to make, Osmund ask God for a sign, and apparently, he sends one.
A knight arrives at the monastery looking for someone who can guide him to a remote village. The knight’s name is Ulrich (Sean Bean) and he leads a group of mercenaries in the search of a Necromancer, believed to be the cause of the plague afflicting the country.
Eventually, the group reaches the village, untouched by the chaos in the other regions of the country and with a beautiful leader (Carice van Houten) who can heal wounds with herbs.
Black Death is one of those movies that the specialized critics seemed to have enjoyed the movie more than the audience did, having a 70% score on Tomatometer (with 6.3 average rating) and a Metascore of metacritic.com of 71.
The audience scores, however, are mediocre, with 49% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.4 score on IMDb.
As an impartial individual, sometimes I agree with one side, while others I agree with the other side and in the case of “Black Death” I side with the critics. I really enjoyed the movie for the most part.
The cast is definitely the strongest point of the movie, with all the aforementioned names and others, like John Lynch as Wolfstan. I knew the Northern Irish actor from “The Fall” and he did an excellent work in “Black Death” as well.
I like a particular scene where the group is discussing what might be causing the plague and Wolfstan start to tell a story about when he was at war in France.
This scene is a great example of how a story told might be more effective than a flashback scene. The same happens in a famous scene from the movie “Persona” by Ingmar Bergman, and is also the whole premise of the great movie “The Man from Earth”.
The gore present since the beginning doesn’t bother me like it seems to have bothered some people who disliked the movie. However, I’m not an edgy teen who thinks gore is “so cool”.
Sometimes gore is used as a gratuitous element to attract the edgy people, but in other cases, it’s just an element to add realism to the movie. The best example I can think of is “Hacksaw Ridge”, with some very graphic scenes portraying a war zone full of death.
The same thing happens with “Black Death”, in a movie about the medieval times and the bubonic plague, it’s just natural that we see corpses piling up and other medieval things, like torture and war.
The thing I hate the most is the shaky camera work. I hate it in most of the movies that this disgusting camera work is present, it’s too noticeable and it bothers me a lot.
The other problem is the lack of originality, being a mix of “The Seventh Seal” and “The Wicker Man”, but inferior to both.
We have the plague and religious elements from the first and the pagan remote village with secrets from the second. However, it brings very feel new and relevant elements, if any.
There are more to talk about the movie, but it will not be possible without going into the realm of Spoilers.
Going back to the things I like about “Black Death”, we have the death of Griff (Jamie Ballard). Griff is a pretty insignificant character, and his death to the plague seems to be a way to demonstrate that the group is vulnerable to it.
However, mostly because of John Lynch’s performance, portraying a very shaken Wolfstan, a man saddened with the imminent death of his friend, we also feel the death, at least as not so insignificant.
Now, the secret of this village is that Langiva, the leader, is the Necromancer. It’s not really a plot twist because it’s quite obvious since their arrival in the village.
She led this remote village in the old ways of the pagans, doing things like using herbs as medicine and having a less dogmatic society. Of course, these people were persecuted by Christians, who claim everything different from them is a work of the devil.
The answer the people from the village decide to give is, kill every Christian who enters their village. I think that’s stupid, way too obvious and if they wanted to be evil torturers, they could have remained Christians.
In spite of the shitty pagans, the revelation that there were no magic, no god, no necromancer, and no shit was amazing. I loved it, they just believed what they wanted to believe, Osmund killed the woman he loved for nothing.
Is believable and it’s much like we see in the real world. People do stupid things in the name of their gods, but in the end, it just adds fuel to the perpetual (un)holy war.