out of Five
Running time: 102
Engaging, well directed medieval horror-slash-thriller with strong performances, a genuinely chilling atmosphere and an unusually thoughtful script.
What's it all about?
Directed by Christopher Smith (Creep), Black Death opens in plague-ravaged 1348 England, as young novice Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) sends away his beautiful girlfriend Averill (Kimberley Nixon) for her own protection. Intending to meet her in the forest, Osmund is instead co-opted by Bishop's envoy Ulric (Sean Bean) into leading a group of mercenaries (including John Lynch and Johnny Harris) to a mysterious village that has somehow remained pestilence-free.
Osmund is devastated when he discovers bloodied clothes belonging to Averill in the forest, but things quickly get worse when they arrive at their destination and discover that village leader Langvia (Carice van Houten) is actually a necromancer. Later that night, Osmund is terrified when Langvia appears to bring Averill back from the dead, but that's nothing compared to what she has in store for the rest of the mercenaries.
Eddie Redmayne is superb as a religious man whose faith receives a heartbreaking test, while Carice van Houten is terrific as the seductive and sinister Langvia. Similarly, Sean Bean is reliably excellent as the pragmatic Ulric, rising star Kimberley Nixon (she's the next Carey Mulligan, you know) is suitably sweet as the doomed Averill and there's also terrific support from a brilliantly cast Tim McInnerny as creepy village elder Hob.
Smith creates a genuinely creepy atmosphere and the script is surprisingly thoughtful and introspective, at least until the torture implements come out and the bloodbath begins. As you'd expect from the director of Severance, the gore scenes are equally well handled, striking exactly the right tone, while also finding room for a little jet-black humour, aided by the performances of Andy Nyman, Johnny Harris and John Lynch.
The only real problem with the film is the pacing in the early stages, while a necessary plot detail in the latter half of the film requires the action to be somewhat static in nature, which gives the illusion of slowing things down even more.
Black Death is a sharply written, superbly acted medieval horror-slash-thriller that's smarter than your average gorefest. Worth seeing.