BLACK DEATH (2010)
Black Death is a horror/thriller set in 1348 during the Black Plague. The land is being ravaged and the clergy say it is a pestilence from God as punishment for man’s sins. The film follows the story of young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) who has fallen for a pretty young woman (Kimberley Nixon) and has sent her deep into the woods to take sanctuary from the sickness. Osmund prays to find a way to escape the monastery and join her and sees an opportunity to do exactly that when a group of soldiers, headed by veteran knight Ulric (Sean Bean), needs a holy man to guide them to a remote village near where his Averill has fled. But it is a village said to be ruled by a necromancer and for practicing witchcraft and the knights are tasked with the necromancer’s capture. Osmund accompanies the knights, but his young love is nowhere to be found and once they arrive in the village, they do discover a seemingly peaceful sanctuary free of the plague and the chaos it creates. But looks can be deceiving and Osmund and the knights find this place may actually be more Hell than Eden and a Hell they may not escape from.
Brit director Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance,Triangle) uses his setting of the Black Plague to maintain an atmosphere of dread even before we reach the village and then amplifies it by letting us know there is something not right about this seemingly idyllic place as soon as we arrive. It’s not soon after that the true nature of the village is revealed and Smith then uses his tale, written by Dario Poloni, to ask cynical questions about religion and the misuse of the power of belief by the people who claim to support those beliefs. Are they representing their deities or serving their own whims of power and control? And the best part is that Smith keeps the questions subtle enough so not to disrupt the entertainment. It is a movie after all and good one that keeps the audience on the edge as to whether the evils are supernatural or all too human.
Smith commands a good cast, including the always top notch Sean Bean, who helps Smith make this dark tale work. The contrast between the cynical soldiers and naive monk give it weight. Things then get interesting when we add the villagers…led by Tim McInnerny as the charismatic leader Hob and Carice van Houten as Langiva, a mysterious woman who may have unnatural powers…who evoke thoughts of more contemporary stories such as Jonestown and the events at Waco. Extra props to young Eddie Redmayne for effecting the gradual transformation of the monk Osmund from naive young monk to…well, you’ll have to watch to find out.
The pace is moderate and that serves the story and it is a gloomy tale and Smith doesn’t shy away from it’s dark nature or wrap things up in a pretty bow once the credits roll. Black Death is not only a tale of atmosphere and mystery, but it is a very graphic and violent tale. All the more effective as Smith doesn’t overuse his blood and gore, but only when it’s needed to punctuate a scene and add impact where the story needs some added intensity.
A good flick from a talented director who mixes an entertaining and chilling story with a little food for thought about faith, belief and those who would use it for their own devices. A dark but satisfying horror from a filmmaker with an already diverse filmography.
3 Beans on a hooded horse… just go with it…
Creep is the first feature film from British writer/director Christopher Smith (Severance, Black Death) and is a tale of horrors set in the train tunnels and sewers beneath the streets of London. The film opens with a couple of sewer workers (Vas Blackwood and Ken Campbell) discovering a new hole in one of the walls which leads to an undocumented tunnel. Their foray into this tunnel does not end well and sets the tone for what is to come. We then shift focus to pretty Kate (Franka Potente) who is planning to leave the party she is at and join a friend at another party where George Clooney is said to be going. But while waiting for the last train of the night, Kate fall asleep on the bench and when she awakens she finds herself locked inside the now shut down train station. And Kate is not alone. In the station are not only a homeless drug addict couple (Kelly Scott and Paul Rattray), but an obnoxious jerk security supervisor (Morgan Jones) and the lecherous and quite high Guy (Jeremy Sheffield) who followed her from the party. They all are about to be plunged into the same nightmare as there is someone, or something, lurking beneath the streets of London that has cruel and disturbing plans for all those unfortunate enough to be there after closing. And when Kate finds herself in the underground lair of this terrifying occupant, she realizes, to her horror, that those already dead got off easy.
I’ll be the first to admit that the talented Smith’s first flick has it problems. There are plenty of plot holes and the film does rely on some conveniences to tell it’s story such as Guy actually becoming stuck in the tunnel after closing as well in his search for Kate and the security guard basically being such a jerk that he refuses to do anything to help including calling authorities when it is clear there is something wrong going on. But Smith is a skilled filmmaker and he does still manage to make an entertaining, suspenseful and very disturbing horror film out of his flawed script. He has a visual style which makes good use out of the tunnels and underground rooms and corridors and gives us a villain whose methods and purpose are quite shocking and horrifying yet, not without a touch of sympathy. The film moves quickly once it gets going and is a tight and entertaining 81 minutes.
Smith gets good work from his cast with Potente being a strong heroine who starts out as a bit of a self-centered , superficial person who not only proves to be a fighter, but learns some humility along the way. And Sean Harris gives disturbing life to the deformed and deadly “Craig” who earns both our dread and a little of our sympathy. The film has some very gruesome moments with some very top notch gore and make-up effects and Smith even adds a touch of poetic justice/irony to it’s final frames.
The film overall shows potential for a director that has been living up to it with his more recent films which prove he not only is skilled at delivering films with a dark tone, but is fairly versatile with films ranging from the surreal, like his Triangle with Melissa George to his darkly satiric Severance to his grim medieval set Black Death. A flawed, but still very effective first feature from a director who’s proven he’s worth keeping an eye on.
3 frightened Frankas!