Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: Black Death

Non Spoiler Review:
Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) stars in this German Medieval flick set in the 1340s as the Black Death ravages Europe. Eddie Redmayne (Pillars of the Earth) is a young monk, Osmund, whose monastery is suffering under the plague. He has worldly temptations (including a girlfriend he hopes to meet up with in the woods after asking God for a sign.). Ulric (Bean) and his party arrive on orders of the bishop to seek out a village across the marshes that has somehow been spared the disease. To the church, this means, of course, the Devil is involved, and Ulric plans on bringing back the heretics responsible. Osmund signs on as guide.

Directed by Christopher Smith, Black Death suffers from intriguing trailer syndrome, which it absolutely does not live up to. It starts out promising, but after the first half hour it's apparent the plot is dragging, and it's nearly an hour in before they even reach the village in question.

I would like to say this first hour is spent on character development, but sadly, no. Ulric and his band of less than charitable men receive very little development or sympathy (some are soldiers, one is a professional torturer). This is a key failure, given we're unable to relate or empathize with them later on when they do arrive at the village and begin to uncover the mystery.

The two mains—Ulric and Osmund—receive only a tad more focus, but I never learned enough to care about them. Ditto for the villagers, who are in an even more confusing position—do we sympathize or agree with Ulric once we see some of the behaviour that's going on?

As I sat through the latter half waiting for some twist to redeem this film, it was apparent that little effort at all was put into the script. Was the writer attempting to paint the Church as villains? Or the heretics in the village? Or everyone equally? I love morally grey stories, but I can't even say that was the case here. By the end I just didn't care, and the 10 minute denouement was a real head-scratcher, almost jumping into a new movie that only added to the confusion.

Black Death felt a lot like The Wicker Man in its tone. But the climax ultimately reminded me of an older and much better movie called The Advocate, which provided a similar and more effective plot resolution. I can't recommend Black Death at all (except if it happens to appear on cable on a lazy day with absolutely nothing else on).

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