Black Death is an atmospheric, brooding, and highly immersive period movie about a deadly outbreak of the bubonic plague. Set in the 14th century it offers a gripping narrative and authentic world-building. And if you’re making a period movie, world-building is everything. Black Death offers a realistic view of that time with crumbling buildings, bleak villages, and human existence warped by the harshness of these conditions. The characters are well-developed and the dialogue feels natural. All of these elements immerse you into this unforgiving world.
The movie immediately delves into an intriguing question of how the humanity of that era dealt with this plague. With limited resources, science in its infancy, and the overwhelming presence of religion, people back then came to all kinds of conclusions. And let’s be honest here if we lived in those times, we would probably come to those same fucking conclusions. Black Death is Christopher Smith’s fourth movie and I have to say that I like all of them equally. While Creep was a minimalist but highly effective horror, Severance offered even a bit of absurdist laughter along with the puzzling mystery that is Triangle.
Black Death is his most complex movie yet, examining several powerful themes. Love, religion, superstition, necromancy, and honor intertwine and create a cohesive narrative. However, since there are so many of these themes you might say that it would be better to focus on just a couple of main ones. We also should not forget about the visually impactful and graphic scenes of the consequences of the disease. Macabre plague masks and a sense of evil emanating from every corner create an uncomfortable but engaging atmosphere. Like you’re watching a really good documentary about this subject.
It is the year of our Lord Satan 1348 and the bubonic plague is slowly but surely spreading throughout Europe. Killing people in the most excruciating way, Black Death is also destroying England. However, there’s a rumor going around about a strange village resisting pestilence. A group of soldiers led by Ulrich is sent to investigate these rumors. And so the perilous journey through the infected realm begins…
Apart from dependable Sean Bean, I would also like to single out young Eddie Redmayne. He was simply brilliant along with mystical Carice van Houten. Actually, the whole cast was great. And I loved seeing Tim McINnerny, whom I’ll always remember from the Black Adder television show. Black Death follows a classic adventure story structure with a clear sense of progression. It slowly builds tension and hides the mystery ’till the very end. And it constantly offers thought-provoking scenes and concepts. Finally, if you’re looking for movies like Black Death, do check out the stylish The 13the Warrior and flashy Season of the Witch.
Director: Christopher Smith
Writers: Dario Poloni, Christopher Smith
Cast: Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Carice van Houten, David Warner, Tim McInnerny, Tygo Gernandt
Fun Facts: Pestilence or Black Death took between 75 and 200 million lives during its peak in the 14th century.