Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Black Death" from Christopher Smith seems deadly today

The German-British (Hanway) period horror film “Black Death”, set during the (bubonic) “plague” in 1348, directed by Christopher Smith in 2010, now seems relevant in many ways.  The writer was Dario Poloni, but Smith made many changes to the second half, reducing the “supernatural” element placing the young monk Osmund’s final torment in more earthly terms, with an epilogue which Smith was allowed to add only by winning an argument.
Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) arranges to leave his monastery to join an “illegal” lover Averill (Kimberky Nixon), who was forced to flee.  This leads him on an expedition (with Ulrich, played by Sean Bean) that takes him to a “utopian” village where no one seems ill, and where people have allegedly been brought back from the dead by a necromancer, who may be either Hob (Tim McInnerny) or Langiva (Carice van Houten).  Osmund gradually learns the rumors about the village on the road -- that nobody is sick yet, and that necromancers should be eliminated. The monk and his cohorts wind up trapped in water torture and rendition, and some of the party are challenged to renounce their faith in god (by Langiva).  Does she want to join with Satan, or deny that we need a God at all?  One member is dismembered (on camera) by horses and pulleys (as in “It Rains in My Village”, Oct. 7, 2013). 

The epilogue is indeed grim, as Osmund has taken to dispatching women in series,  He has entered his own inferno.  The pandemic catches up with the village just because it had been only a matter of time.  God's will was to let nature run its course. 
The film may seem timely now given the critical mass being reached by the Ebola epidemic in Africa. But is also obviously makes for telling commentary on blind loyalty to religion, or to the tribal system propped by religion.  The idea of making someone renounce his faith in public with torture to follow seems all too prescient right now, given the actions of ISIS. The director Chris Smith says he portrayed several kinds of Christians, including fanatics, and moderates like Osmund as the film starts. But he also mentions the transformation of Osmund from being a man who loves God to a man who will kill for God, but some of the others in his cohort were more like this in the beginning.

The official site is here (Magnet and Magnolia).  The film was shot entirely in Germany, in actual chronological sequence from the shooting script, a practice that is actually uncommon. 
The DVD is available from Netflix.  The DVD has many extras: "Bringing 'Black Death' to Life" (directed by Toby James); HDNET's "A Look at 'Black Death'", a "Behind the Scenes" (that shows how the dismemberment happens and also shows Redmayne with a circular bald spot on his scalp; and about twelve interview segments, as well as deleted scenes.
Unrated Film has an interview with the director here


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