The result of necromancy in Black DeathBlack Death is a medieval horror story, but its monsters are more human than supernatural. It forces its characters to question their core beliefs as devout men. But it also examines people’s capacity to blindly follow religious leaders without considering the consequences or their legitimacy. This Toronto After Dark Film Festival selection is an interesting exploration of human nature and the overall concept of religious dedication.

With Medieval England consumed by the black plague, the Bishop is disturbed by reports of an isolated pagan village that remains untouched by the disease. Suspecting the work of witchcraft, a young monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) is charged to guide a detachment of mercenaries to this remote community. Led by Ulric (Sean Bean), a famed and feared witch-hunter, their quest is to hunt down a necromancer – someone able to revive the dead – and beat God back into the rest of the inhabitants. Osmund is suddenly on a perilous journey that will test his faith and moral compass as he finds himself torn between his love for God and the love of a young woman.

Logic and religion rarely agree so common sense hardly ever enters into the reasoning process throughout the film: the Christian soldiers do the Bishop’s bidding without question; witchcraft is blamed for village maladies resulting in the murder of countless women; and coincidence creates obedient followers. The conclusion of the mission, though not a complete success, is satisfying even if it’s narratively devastating.

The cast is exceptionally strong with Redmayne and Bean at the helm. Osmund is almost in a constant state of fright or grief, which Redmayne represents with unwavering melancholy. Ulric is a character-type Bean is not at all unfamiliar with, even if the circumstances are different. He is a strong and determined leader that is methodical and effective in his actions. Carice van Houten plays Langiva, the lovely adversary they encounter in the untouched village. The deep-rooted sinisterness van Houten portrays is unsettling and still detectable even when she is being hospitable.

The film itself is aesthetically gratifying. The colour appears rich as natural greens and deep reds stand out from muted browns and greys. In addition, compared to what is presented in the trailer, the picture quality is surprisingly good. Director Christopher Smith has a knack for capturing the mood of a story with the style of the film – 2004’s Creep is a dark example of this. Based on the impressive final results, Smith appears to be skilled behind the camera and comfortable with capturing his well-developed vision for the screen.

Other than some unwarranted voiceovers, Black Death is an excellent film that deals with some very complex issues regarding faith and reason.


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