A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?” For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep. Black Death 2010, Germany/UK. Directed by Christopher Smith. Written by Dario Poloni. Starring Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Carice Van Houten, John Lynch, Kimberly Nixon. “The fumes of the dead are in the air like poison. The plague, more cruel and more pitiless than war, descended upon us. A pestilence that would leave half of our kingdom dead. Where did it come from? What carried its germ? The priests told us it was God’s punishment. For what sin? What commandment must we break that could earn this? No, we knew the truth. This was not God’s work, but devilry. Or witchcraft. But our task, to hunt down a demon, was God’s cure.” People have been killing each other in the name of their gods from the moment there were two of us to have different opinions on what those gods might be. There must be something built into the human animal. The primitive need for dominance, maybe. Or the fear that what we tell ourselves to keep the dark at bay could possibly not be true. Some of us were born and raised with a more vague spirituality, if any at all. But the darkness is just as black no matter whose eyes are looking out upon it. My own beliefs have long scrambled the wisdom of Jesus, Buddha, and the forest primeval, with a few things picked up from movies, books, and music, just to make it interesting. Sometimes my own inner pagans and Christians start going to war and killing each other while the agnostic sits back and hates them both. It’s not easy, I know. And there are no easy answers in this movie. It’s like WICKER MAN meets GAME OF THRONES, a kind of Dark Ages pulp fiction that questions what we might think about religion. But in a really cool way with lots of blood and ripped-off arms. The year is 1348, somewhere in Europe, and everything is all lolling corpses and scurrying rats. Young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) has a secret: he’s just forced his illicit girlfriend to flee the city in hopes of escaping the plague, and he desperately wants to join her. He kneels, beseeching the sky for answers. Looking for a sign from God. Enter the devout fundamentalist knight Elric (Sean Bean) and his small band of mercenaries hired by the Church. They are in search of a remote village living beyond death’s grasp, and Osmund quickly volunteers to be their guide. Osmund is warned that this knight is more dangerous than the pestilence itself. Within cinematic minutes of leaving the monastery, he is given reason to question the motives of his companions. A panicked bunch of peasants has strapped some woman to a tree, claiming that she’s brought death to their village. Osmund races into the fray, trying to save the woman’s life. When it looks like he might end up joining her on the tree, our knight Elric intervenes. He warns the assailants back, unties the sobbing woman, and gently leads her away from them, into the woods. He immediately runs his blade into her, again and again, until she is dead. Osmund looks on in anger and horror, while Elric explains, “The woman was already dead, but I freed her. The mob would have held her again and burned her. I spared her suffering. Sometimes that is all you can do.” This is when Osmund learns the true nature of the quest he is guiding: the disease-free community they are seeking may be led by a necromancer, rumored to be warding off the plague through sorcery and to be able to bring the dead back to life. The mission is to capture the villagers’ leader in the name of the church, secure a confession, and put them to the sword. Since the way to appease God is with, you know, more killing. While you watch this story unfold, your loyalties to the characters might be tested. Everyone tends to have at least one moment where they make more sense than everyone else, and it’s usually right before they do something to piss you off. Osmund was acting as much out of goodness when he tried to save the woman in the woods as Elric was in sparing her suffering with a swift death. When the band of not-so-merry men finally reach their destination, the village’s de facto leader (Carice Van Houten, practicing for her role as Melisandre) points out that they are liars. “These Christians arrived in our village claiming to seek refuge,” she says, “This was their true purpose instead. They came, uninvited, to our home, bringing malice and hatred.” And it’s true. There’s no evidence in the film that Melisandre or her village were doing anything horrible until the Knights of the Self-Righteous Table showed up, and then everything gets medieval. Before the end, Osmund will be heading for a bloody confrontation with his own faith. There will be some cool fire-and-brimstone style violence. What Rutger Hauer did with a couple semi-trucks in THE HITCHER, we get to see the old-school version with horses here. We might get to see a resurrection, and there will be a little swordplay. And everything ends up a little more bleak than when it began. In the original script, the entire second half of the movie ended up being supernatural, with Melisandre revealed as the Devil incarnate. But that’s not always good. That’s how they ruined the second half of that otherwise interesting Nicolas Cage flick, SEASON OF THE WITCH. Instead, director Christopher Smith (CREEP, SEVERANCE, and TRIANGLE) opted for the Hell-is-within-ourselves kinda thing, and it works for me here. Both the knights and the pagans are tackling the same old questions we’ve always asked, why do bad things happen to good people? For what reason must we endure floods, earthquakes, storms, and disease, not to mention all the smaller tragedies that befall us on the inevitable path to the grave? Why do the bad guys sometimes seem to win? Every civilization has tried to respond to the inherent and unexplainable cruelties of life through philosophy, religion, and all of the other aspects of their own personal mythology. But there is no universal etiology of bad-shit that can ever be accepted by all of us. Rather than humanity struggling to emulate the wisdom and power of the gods, we tend to paint our gods as judgmental and destructive as we are. Sometimes there are no devils as bad as the one walking around inside of us. As the failed monk Osmund says, “I believe hunting necromancers and demons serves men more than it serves God.” See larger image Black Death + Digital Copy [Blu-ray] The year is 1348. Europe has fallen under the shadow of the Black Death. As the plague decimates all in its path, fear and superstition are rife. There are rumors of a village hidden in marshland that the plague cannot reach. There is talk of a necromancer who leads the village and is able to bring the dead back to life. Ulric (Sean Bean), a fearsome knight, is charged by the church to investigate these rumors. Joined by a young monk and a small consort of soldiers, the journey ahead will lead them into the heart of darkness where faith is challenged and put to the ultimate test. New From: $7.75 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.