When coming up with films I wanted to take a look back at for our 31 Days of Halloween, I wanted to go outside the box a little bit. I personally love films like Friday the 13th as much as everyone else, but I figured some of the other writers might want to hit the classics and I would throw more caution to the wind. My first offering this October comes from Black Death. It is an action horror movie shot in Germany and co-produced by both German and UK studios. It stars Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean. Now, I know what you are thinking, a medieval type film, Sean Bean must obviously die in it right? Well according to the Nerdist, that only happens a third of the time, so hopefully he will be the hero we need.
The Movie Itself (4/5)
Black Death takes places in 1348, where cities are being decimated by the plague. The same plague that killed between 30 and 60% percent of Europe’s population and took four centuries to recover from. While many cities are being purged, there is talk of one town completely untouched. Ulric (Sean Bean) is an envoy to the Bishop and goes to the local monastery to recruit one of the monks to be a guide. Almost immediately, a young monk steps forward to volunteer and lead Ulric. Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) had fallen in love with a young girl and was looking for spiritual guidance since he has broken his vow of celibacy. He had just sent her out of the city to try and escape the plague and saw this as an opportunity to join her along the road.
What Osmund doesn’t know is that Ulric isn’t just going to the village to inquire about how they avoided the plague. It is rumored that their leader is a necromancer and may be the actual cause of the plague. As a result, he has a strong contingent of fighters at hand to capture this evil demon and take him to the Bishop for judgment. Along the way, they encounter other places ravaged by the plague. Some are so badly hit, they have tuned to cannibalism; which in hindsight doesn’t seem to be the best idea when anyone can have the plague and not know it yet. Will there be enough men left to fight the necromancer by the time they reach the village?
While not a traditional horror piece, you get quite a bit of mysticism-shrouded gore for being a PG-13 film. In addition, Black Death includes some torture, and lots of blood and deaths. The film is paced well and the acting is above average. Most of all, it is a fun watch. The plot and storytelling won’t knock your socks off, and you can anticipate most of what will happen. Yet, there are still some nice nuances and surprises to the script. It may help that I enjoy a lot of medieval fantasy type films and find the settings and design fascinating.
The paganism vs. religion battle and who are the truly evil ones can be debated throughout the film. Personally, I like to go deeper and view this as what are men and women capable of in the end. Do they hold to their morals or let that go by the wayside with anger?
I have seen many of the costumes represented here in past Halloweens and thought it would fit our October theme, whether it be a witch, knight, monk, or even the crazy plague doctors with the long nosed masks. If you are looking for a film with action, some religious and horror subtexts and a little bit of gore… you could do much worse than Black Death.
31 Days of Halloween Trivia:
- Due to Sean Bean’s schedule, Black Death was shot almost chronologically which is very rare for a film
- Black Death came out a month after similarly themed Season of the Witch in the US which may have impacted its box office take
- Various studies on HIV resistance have tracked genetic codes all the way back to the Middle Ages that may show certain Northern Europeans had immunity to even the black plague.
Visuals/Picture Quality (4/5)
Black Death has a lot of grain and was shot like that intentionally. The director wanted a dirty, gritty look. As a result, some of the night scenes can look a bit soft and lose some clarity. However, every thing shot during the daylight has nice detail. The film certainly has a grey palette, as one would expect from the time period, although it sure does make the bright red blood contrast well. The sets are simple for the most part, but they work in the setting; also, the armor and weapons seem to have heft and make the battles exciting. All in all, I’m happy with the world they created and, although not glamorous, it more than gets the job done.
Score/Audio Quality (4/5)
I would consider the score somewhat minimal; having said that, it is what I would expect from a film like this. Composer Christian Henson’s score provides the right sound for the targeted emotions. The sound effects are spectacular; in many of the battles you can feel the metal swords slamming together with this 5.1 track. The fighters are guttural and immerse you in the battle. Dialogue is always clear, whether whispering or shouting.
Special Features (3/5)
Deleted Scenes – Nothing necessary, but short enough to watch them all and gain a little more context to a few parts
- Absolution (1:51)
- Prayer (:40)
- Our Plan (:26)
- Tears (1:27)
Bringing Black Death to Life (11:35) A behind the scenes featurette detailing the overall mood and feel on the set. First, the director Christopher Smith and the cast talk about Sean Bean’s presence and what it adds to the film. Then Sean and all the main cast switch and talk about the director and his immense amounts of energy. If you liked the film it is worth watching and I would have even watched more.
Interviews With Cast and Crew (32:36) Separate interviews with the Director and each main cast member
Behind the Scenes Footage (10:42) A more free form “fly on the wall” look at scenes and inner workings.
HDNet: A Look at Black Death (3:51) Basically an extended TV spot with some of the cast and crew giving a preview of the film.
- Vanishing on 7th Street
- I Saw the Devil
- 13 Assassins
- Hobo With A Shotgun
- Disc Art
- Non Eco-case
- Holographic Slipcover (Looks gorgeous if you can find it)
- iTunes Digital Copy (says expired in 2011, but I gave away on a forum when I got mine last year and I was told it worked)
- Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English SDH
Runtime 102 Mins
I have seen this at least five times, it is one of my stay home from work sick movies, where I rest and watch medieval action films. Others include: Centurion, Ironclad, and Arn: The Knight Templar. What you get with Black Death is a solid action film that has some horror elements and a religious story-line, though with the brutality of the time period I would say this film bears more on the side of what humans are capable of versus exploring the religion angle. For those wishing to purchase the Blu-ray, it has wonderful picture and sound and some great packaging if you can find a slip with it. You can grab at Amazon, Best Buy, or go hunting for a slip at your local thrift shops.