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Black Death (Review)

Magnolia, 2011, Rated R

By Phil Morehart · June 1st, 2011 · Couch Potato
The year is 1348. The bubonic plague is ravaging Britain, striking hundreds of thousands dead and leaving even more suffering in its slow, painful grip. A panicked populace seeks answers. What’s causing this pestilence?

An official explanation comes from the Church, who decrees that it is God’s punishment. Mankind has sinned. And he must pay. A divergent line of thought grows, though. Evil is behind this destruction. And it must be stopped — in God’s name.

 So sets the stage for Black Death, a dark, very violent, horror-tinged historical drama from British director Christopher Smith (Triangle, Severance). Before this backdrop plays the story of a young monk (Eddie Redmayne) who joins a band of killers, mercenaries and thieves (led by Lord of the Rings’ Sean Bean) on a mission to find the sinister sources of the Black Death.

Their destination is an isolated community untouched by the plague — a place rumored to be protected by a necromancer where man has devolved into cannibalism and sadism.

 What they find instead of a Hell on Earth is a quaint riverside village under the tutelage of a benevolent “witch” (Black Book’s Carice van Houten) whose powers involve mixing natural healing potions rather than raising the dead. Or do they?

 On the surface, Black Death looks like just another Medieval actioner, but it’s much smarter that it lets on. Behind the ridiculously gory (but quite awesome) battle sequences and torture set pieces lies interesting t�te-�-t�tes between organized religion and indigenous belief. The unchecked destruction that both create brings an intriguing ambiguity to Black Death. Just who are the bad guys? The Christian inquisitors who play judge, jury and executioner with their chambers of horror? Or the backwoods pagans who sacrifice and kill to ward off calamity? Black Death offers no answers, only witness to their folly. Grade: B



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