Black Death Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated March 3rd, 2014 at 6:44 am,

Black Death Movie Review Black Death Review

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Black Death

There’s nothing wrong with a genre B-movie that knows exactly what it is. The productions values may be low-budget, the script may be filled with cringe-worthy dialogue and cliched tropes – you may even find big-name actors hamming it up for the sake of a paycheck (like Ben Affleck in the movie Paycheck) – but when all is said and done, B-movies can be fun guilty pleasures to watch.

One would look at the premise of  Black Death and expect to see a B-movie Medieval epic that offered some serious gore and hokey supernatural horror tropes. Sadly, what we get instead is a B-movie that doesn’t seem to know its own limitations, instead trying to present itself as something deeper and more profound than it could ever hope to be.

The story revolves around a young monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) living in England during the height of the dreaded bubonic plague. Despite his obligation to God, Osmund is secretly in love with a young maiden named Averill (Kimberly Nixon), and when the plague starts to ravage their village, Osmund sends his love away so that she might be spared a grisly fate. Averill promises to wait for Osmund (for a limited time) in a place far beyond the village, and then she’ll disappear from his life forever.

The young monk struggles with his sworn oath to God and the oath of his heart, and therefore takes it as a divine sign when a group of hardened warriors – led by the infamous Sir Ulric (Sean Bean) – come to the monastery to recruit a monk as a guide, to lead them far into the countryside to investigate a mysterious town rumored to have been spared from the plague. The warriors’ plotted path crosses the place where Averill is waiting for Osmund, so the young monk volunteers to lead the warriors, assuming it is his fate to rendezvous with Averill and escape the hell surrounding them.

Sir Ulrich is also a man of God. He confides in Osmund that their true mission is to infiltrate this mysterious village and identify a necromancer (person who raises the dead) thought to be living there. Killing the necromancer is God’s work in Ulrich’s eyes – though Osmund wants no part of that bloodshed.

Of course, the journey doesn’t go quite as Osmund planned, and soon he finds himself trapped in the village on the swamp, grappling with dark forces and a test of his faith he is ill-prepared for.

black death sean bean eddie redmayne Black Death Review

It quickly became apparent when I saw this film that Black Death is in fact a theological debate disguised as a Medieval epic. There are only about two scenes of action (though they are pretty bloody), while the rest of the film’s runtime is dedicated to exploring what it means to serve God; if there is in fact a God to serve; if disasters like plague are acts of higher powers or simply circumstances of our human existence; if Christianity is more righteous than atheism and logic – and a whole lot of other heavy-handed, half-cooked ideas that really felt out of place in a movie like this.

It’s almost as though screenwriter Dario Poloni had no idea that metaphor, symbolism, and subtly are the earmarks of quality writing. Every single idea or theme presented in Black Death is just spouted out in dialogue so overt and unsophisticated that it had me burying my face in embarrassment for the person who wrote it. Even worse than this thinly-veiled theological “quandary” is the fact that Black Death‘s story never really makes a valid point. There is a lot of back and forth about who does the most harm – believers or non-believers – and some ambiguous suggestion about the existence of the supernatural vs. the dangers of superstition. We’re basically treated to arguments we’ve heard between skeptics and believers a hundred times before, dressed up in chain mail and cheap Medieval costuming for no real purpose.

Black Death Eddie Redmayne Black Death Review

Director Christopher Smith is known for films like Severance and Creep – movies which take a seemingly standard premise and inject it with a healthy dose of B-movie schlock. Black Death gets no points for direction, seeing as how it pretty much looks like something a film school student could shoot if given a modest budget. Actually, upon thinking about it, I’m not sure that an “A” student in film school wouldn’t come up with something much more stylistic and visually creative than this bland and cliched film we get – but that’s just me. Smith’s work looks like something you’d catch on late-night premium channel cable.

The actors all do pretty well considering the schlock they’re being given to work with. Sean Bean is totally underutilized as Ulrich – but then I suppose he’s used to being underutilized in films, just as he is used to wearing Medieval garb by now, having played a sword-swinging crusader in Lord of the Rings (though that role had actual meat and depth to it). Eddie Redmayne is nothing to write home about in the leading role as Osmund; his only given task seems to be standing around with his boyish good looks, p0uting at all the death and madness surrounding him. If Redmayne exhibited any more range than that, I must’ve missed it. Carice van Houten – who was wonderful as a Jew spying on the Nazis in Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book – is also grossly underutilized in this film. As the matriarch and accused necromancer of the mysterious village on the swamp, whatever depth her character may have had was robbed from her by the so-obvious-it-hurts proclamations and dialogue of the script.

Black Death Carice van Houten Black Death Review

If there is one bit of redemption for this film, it comes from the supporting players who make up Ulrich’s band of warriors. John Lynch and Andy Nyman are great in their own right, but it is Johnny Harris as “Mold,” the savage killer of the bunch, who truly steals the show. Without these strong  supporting players keeping things interesting and colorful, this film would probably be unwatchable.

In the end, Black Death is a movie that should’ve been lost deep in the straight-to-DVD bin at your local Walmart. The fact that somebody felt it deserved a theatrical run, while other more qualified movies never get that chance, just goes to show that whether by the grace of god, or fault of man, little is fair in the movie biz.

Check out the trailer for Black Death:

Our Rating:

1.5 out of 5
(Poor, A Few Good Parts)

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TAGS: black death

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  1. Didnt black death come out like a year ago? I thought it was pretty good

  2. It’s just recently come to Video On Demand here in the U.S.

  3. Kofi I think you need to go pick up a few books about the Dark Ages and the reason the era was referred to as that. There was nothing Subtle about the visuals and the outlook of the people at that time. They believed in witches and demons, hence all the gargoyles on churches and castles to ward off evil. People at that time were VERY religious and would even die for their religious beliefs. They didn’t just mumble a few words of prayer and hope things became better, they actually did something about it, sometimes for the better sometimes not. The Crusades, The Black Plague, massive wars and the Inquisition are just a few of the more well known events.

    Now I am not defending the movie per se since I haven’t seen it yet, but to dismiss the movie outright simply because you think that what happened at that time was “Heavy Handed” shows your lack of knowledge of how the world used to be.

    • Exactly right. If the characters are more religious, that just reflects a basic understanding about the people of Europe at that time. Fewer religious references for a story in this period would have probably raised a few eyebrows.

    • I agree. This reviewer is rather clueless about history. Who is this guy anyway??? The vast, and I do mean VAST, majority of reviews that have come out about this film have been laudatory, both technically and artistically. I’m not a fan of horror films, but I found Black Death to be an amazing piece of cinematography.

      • Interesting that people are taking my review of a film’s craftmanship and execution of its story to be a failing of my knowledge of history and/or my personal beliefs. Never expected to hit a nerve quite this raw with this review.

        The other reviewers can say whatever they’d like. I found this film to be poor in terms of construction and narrative approach. If others like it, more power to them. I won’t judge them personally simply because their opinion differs from mine – unlike some of you “enlightened” folks on this thread…

        To be clear: my issue is NOT with having religion in story, or characters who reflect the strong religious attitudes of the time (of which I’m all too aware). My problem was in how this film presented it’s theological debate – I found it overt to a fault and hokey, rather than smart, subtle or insightful. End of story.

  4. The reviewer should note that the word God with a lower-case “g” indicates a “god” as in “one of many.” It is used incorrectly here. Just sayin’.

    Thanks for steering me away from a poorly executed movie, though. Good thing my hopes weren’t too high.

    • Don’t let the reviewer steer you clear of this film, it’s not nearly as bad as he makes it out to be.

      Listen to everyone else here, and me, it’s a good movie, it’s not great, but it’s not nearly as bad as the reviewer says it is here….

  5. I think the reviewer is way off here. It has some weak points, but this movie was actually quite a pleasant surprise to me. And it definitley didnt need to be another over the top B-film (is the reviewer 15?). I wouldve given it 3.5. I think Kofi has some personal problem with the movie, maybe the discussion of christianity (which is realistically portrayed for the Dark Ages) made him uncomfortable.

  6. @jace

    I simply did not like the movie and that is it. Has nothing to do with the subject matter, or my personal beliefs. Some movies are good, other are not, and I qualify this film as the latter.

    • Ok understand that you didnt like the movie but you stated in your review that it was a religious.

      “insist on taking itself so seriously, while dumping heavy-handed theological themes onto the audience”

      I am simply responding to what you wrote. I have stated that other movies and in fact most have heavy handed themes but yet they are touted as main stream, “Jarhead”, “Valley of Elah”, “Brothers”, “The Hurt Locker”, and Red State, all had one sided attempts to partray their subject matter. Hollywood is about heavy handed so to see the other side of the coin is good at times.

      • I agree with your point, but not with your review of the film.

        I did not like this film at all, in any way. I hardly never turn a film off, as I like to give a film a chance. But this film is just garbage.

        • that reply was for Aleric

  7. I respectfully disagree with your review here. It’s gotten excellent reviews from numerous top horror (and other genre) websites. I can list over a dozen. It also won several awards at the LA Screamfest (best director….best actor…..best cinematography…best musical score

    http://www.screamfestla.com/winners2010.php

    Here’s are some sites to check out that give it great reviews…………

    http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/film/2123/review

    http://www.joblo.com/arrow/index.php?id=23276

    http://www.seemagazine.com/article/screen/screen-preview/death-becomes-festival-4555/

    http://www.dreadcentral.com/reviews/black-death-2010

    http://www.soundonsight.org/toronto-after-dark-2010-black-death/

    It’s a shame that you reviewed this film with a pre-conception that it is some grade B horror flick, which it isn’t. It’s an intelligent film that goes beyond that. It doesn’t follow the typical “stichk” horror format so I guess that’s why you judged it the way you did, unlike the way the other reviewers did who looked at it through a different mind set.

    I understand that everyone has their own opinion but I think you are definitely in the minority when it comes to judging this film.

    P.S. Note to poster John….
    Don’t let just one bad review stop you from seeing this excellent film.

    • Haha Thanks for the heads-up! Gosh, based on the reactions to the review, now I’m REALLY excited for this movie!!

  8. I’m suprised by the review for prior reviews I had seen (serveral months back) at other sites gave this film a more favaroable review. I haven’t seen it so I can’t agree or disagree but I am suprised.

    Thansk Kofi

  9. Either the reviewer is a believer himself or he just lack the knowledge of christian history. This movie was spot-on in my book. It nails the point on superstition and the irrationality haunting religion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death_(film)

    Christopher Smith’s work in the horror genre includes 2009′s Triangle, Severance for Magnolia Pictures, and Creep for Lionsgate.
    He explained his approach to the film:
    It’s a ‘medieval guys on a mission’ movie. The period of the black death – what’s fantastical and rich about that period? I said, ‘What if we took a realistic approach?’ The people of the time believe the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins, or by the Devil to torment them. I wanted to find out what the characters felt and posit them on a journey of ‘is it real? Or is it not real?’ What would a necromancer be like if he existed? We added this fundamentalist knight, so it touches on fundamentalism. It’s a super dark film but it’s exciting. It’s like a dark parable about how things haven’t really moved on in the last 600 years.[8]

  10. I liked it alot. It has a grainy gritty feel to it that suits the material. The performences are great, the photography is excellent and i’m not sure why you think the constumes are cheap??

    This isn’t B-movie fodder, there’s real craftsmanship involved here working on a lean script. It’s not Kingdom of Heaven, but that doesn’t make it B movie shlock!

  11. I’m no fan of shaky-cam, but I thought the film was pretty good. 7/10 in my opinion. Definitely didn’t think of it as a B-movie, but more of a flawed A movie.

  12. I believe Kofi is entitled to his own opinion. He’s not telling what to think, he is telling you what he thought of the movie. That being said, i’m slightly more hesitant to see the movie now, but thanks to Sean Bean… i still plan on seeing the film.

  13. wow its his opinion of the movie. don’t get worked up about it lol.

  14. Bit of a strange article since this film came out a long time ago.

    I tried to watch it about 7 months ago, absolutely aweful. I turned it off after 10 minutes. What I particularly couldn’t stomach was the throaty voices that the young males were doing. I mean, who the f##k speaks like a double hard b#####d all the time. Pathetic….

    I normally always finish watching a film if I start, but this was unbearable.

    • Paul77,

      Where do you live? This hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet.

      Vic

      • @Vic,

        I got the film from the web. The screener got released ages and ages ago, most probably over a year ago (can;t remember). I’m from the UK. I used to be an analyst for a bank, so I’m pretty good at finding stuff on the web.

        Thanks for defending my 10 minute opinion of this film.

        @Aleric,

        What nade me turn if off after 10 minutes was the bad directing, lame set, even lamer extras (who just didn’t look interested) and the gruff voice that the newbie (I’m from London) actor decided to put on.

        In MY OPINION this film is garbage.

        …. and FYI for me to turn a film off, is a massive thing for me to do, as my friends will tell you I’ll watch any old crap…. but NOT this time.

        You can’t judge a film in 10 minutes (I agree), but their are exceptions.

    • How can you judge a film in 10 minutes? That barely gets you through the opening credits and the introduction of the main characters.

      • Aleric,

        I haven’t seen THIS film but I can tell you that in my experience if a film totally sucks in its first 10 minutes the odds are that the entire thing will be terrible.

        Vic

        • Lol…problem is, the film doesn’t suck.

          I don’t know where that guy is getting the young males doing throaty voices…Sean Bean isn’t exactly young, neither are many of the other characters in the film, except for the monk. Haha, looks more to me like Kofi created another nickname to help back himself up ;-) j/k

          Either way, the film has been on torrents for awhile now, so that’s probably how he saw it if he’s in the US.

          • Actually, he was invited to a screening of the film.

            Vic

          • @Zach,

            I was talking about the Monk. If you like this film then fine, good for you, go and eat some cake and tell your mum, cos I’m really happy for you.

            I don’t like this film, and I don’t like being told I’m made up. I assure you I’M A REAL LITTLE BOY!!!

  15. Come on guys, this is Kofi’s opinion, no need to call the Inquisitor. I do agree, though, about what some posters have said about why the film may have had overly religious overtones. Even today, why bad things happen, many Christians believe that either it’s God’s will testing them or satan attempting to sway them away from God. As a Christian myself, I am forced to believe that it is possible that some bad things happen because of divine providence but as a realist, I know that some bad things happen because of circumstances. If a person continues to spend an inordinate amount of money when he owes an extreme debt (are you listening Mr. President :-) ), it is not because God has willed his misfortune when his house has been repossessed or he is in financial ruin. I have not seen this film but from what I see of the subject matter, I believe the people of that time would be extremely religious.

    Since some of you have seen this film and liked it, I may have to give it a shot myself.

    • I’ll see it out of pure curiosity now, Kofi being the shoot from the hip reviewer that he is, has got me interested.

      • I agree Anthony. FOr some reason Kofi’s negative review has me more interested than I was before. Don’t believe a negative review has EVER caused me to want to see a movie more. Puzzling.

    • I am not blasting Kofi. I respect his opinion and his review. I am simply pointing out some of the flaws he mentioned in the review and trying to help him understand the film in a better perspective.

  16. Vic Holtreman….

    Black Death has been released on DVD over in the UK (Region 2 DVD). For those of us with multi-region DVD players, we simply ordered it from Amazon UK.

    Until the DVD releases here, there are two ways to see this film here in the states:

    It has a limited release in certain select theaters in various cities across the U.S. Here is a link that shows the city, date, and theater….

    http://www.magpictures.com/dates.aspx?id=4d784875-607b-40ca-a258-805efbf0c2a9

    The other way is if you have “On Demand” with your cable/satellite you can view it there.

  17. or you can dl it illegally which is why ill never pay for a movie again… except maybe avatar 2 and 3 in imax 3d. btw this movie totally blows

  18. While I might not agree with Kofi on all the points, 1.5/5 isn’t too far from what I would give the film.
    It has it’s moments, and due to being set in the marches it’s somewhat reminiscent of “Sauna” – another somewhat flawed film, but still better than this.
    What makes it cringe worthy at times is the unlikeable main characters – the simpering manchild of a monk and the self-righteous and utterly predictable witch – and the heavy handed composition of the movie. Like the last segment, 5 minutes or so of hammering in a point that the narrator could have covered in two lines of monologue. Which in fact he does, but then the director felt to need to make sure that absolutely everyone watching – even the most dimwitted and movie language illiterate – would get it.

    Still, as I said, it has it’s moments, and there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour an’an’haf. It does it’s job as entertainment, but not much more than that.
    In short: Too much trying to be clever and serious, too little Sean Bean killing people with swords.

  19. Looks like Amazon.com just listed the DVD for the U.S.! Release date May 10th.

    http://www.amazon.com/Black-Death/dp/B004P2VQZW/ref=sr_1_2?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1298582200&sr=1-2

  20. Whoops! Have no idea why when you click on the link I just posted above it shows up as a little box. It works fine for me when I click this link independently (not from this site). Anyways…if it’s appearing as a little box just click on that little curved clockwise arrow that appears at the top right corner of the box (first icon) and the normal page from Amazon will appear.

  21. I still find it hard that Season of the Witch is apparently better than this according to this site. That film is completely disposable.

    Out of curiosity, did this site ever check out Solomon Kane?

  22. I’m a huge fan, of movies having to do with The Dark Ages, and a huge history buff, so I really enjoyed this movie completely.

  23. Oh man I was actually pleasantly surprised by Soloman Kane. Solid film!

  24. This was taken from the full article that ran from The Guardian online (UK newspaper) http://www.guardian.co.uk

    “Quinn is a senior vice-president of Magnolia Pictures, which distributes foreign, documentary and American independent films in the US. You’d expect him to be in a state of anxiety over his business, but he isn’t. On the contrary, like many in the US independent sector he is optimistic that new audiences are being drawn to intelligent film-making and that they are finding ways of seeing the films.

    “People bemoan the industry, but it hasn’t changed,” he says. “What is growing is a much younger audience that is more familiar with many more ways to view films.”

    >>>He gives an example: Black Death, a British independent horror movie about the plague starring Sean Bean. It hasn’t been released in cinemas in the US yet, but Quinn has put it out on VOD – video on demand streamed over the internet. “We launched it four weeks prior to its theatrical release at the same price as the theatre ticket,” he says. “It’s taken $1m in less than 10 days.”<<<

  25. Just saw this movie, thought it was so fantastic I had to write about it somewhere. So here goes:

    I’m not about to get angry over opinions on the internet (of all places(sarcasm)), but I just feel like you applied too many current issues with this film. You say the movie takes itself too seriously, but I don’t see how a movie about the dark ages could carry itself in any other way than serious. I’m not too big of a history buff, but I’ve paid enough attention in school to know that the dark ages were messed up in a whirl wind of religious paranoia.

    You were spot on with the acting, but I wasn’t too critical with Osmond’s place in the film…he practically spent his entire adult life in the monastery, so playing the innocent, helpless youth is to be expected.

    And I love how Sean Bean always dies in medieval movies, haha. It’s a trend that is the enigma that is Sean Bean.

    Good movie: 8 out of 10

  26. Loved this movie. Got my degree in philosophy. If most people liked it, it probably couldn’t be any good because while most human beings try to be “good”, most are so ignorant yet certain they are actually as vicious as these characters. See how many people we have in prison in “America”, put there by “Good Christian Americans” like Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and their ilk.