Although these last years of COVID may seem terrible, they are nothing compared to the plague epidemic in the mid-14th century, where this 2010 movie, Black Death, takes place.
Every street in every town is full of corpses as mass hysteria mounts blaming innocent people pointlessly for witchcraft and burning them alive after coercing confessions under torture.
Even in the protected monasteries are casualties and illnesses, like where a young novice comes out of seclusion without showing any signs of the disease.
His existence is about to change dramatically when a handful of mercenaries arrive in town on a challenging mission.
Under orders from the bishop, they are to scout out an isolated village in a distant swamp, the only place seemingly unaffected by the epidemic.
The boy, having grown up nearby, knows the place well, so he decides to join the soldiers and lead them to their target.
However, faith is not his only motivation; since he wishes to leave the church and escape with a girl waiting for him in the swamp.
Traveling with these mercenaries, the young man encounters the violence and madness ravaging the world plagued by this epidemic.
He also discovers the actual mission is capturing a necromancer who, by worshiping the devil, protects the villagers from the plague, and he supposedly resurrects the dead.
When they finally reach the swamp and set up camp to rest, the novice wanders off to search for his beloved girl, finding only her horse and some alarming blood traces.
Yet there is no time to ponder the situation because, once they find this strange village, it immediately escalates into a bloody clash between the unwavering God-followers and this fierce pagan tribe.
The simple and brutal truth of the story
Christopher Smith is a director I mentioned a short time ago, recommending his excellent 2009 horror mystery Triangle.
In this instance, he chooses a violent realism style instead, recounting one of the darkest moments in human history.
The setting and costumes of the cities destroyed by the plague are believable and terrifying, shifting later to the woods or the surreal swamps immersed in fog.
While dealing with the religious topic, the story never takes a stand by dividing the characters into good and evil.
Each defends the reasons that drive them to commit horrible acts, whether they engage them in the name of God or against the Christian church.
Religion is the psychological push behind everyone’s motivation to do what they do, uniting soldiers and dividing citizens who accuse each other of being demonic bringers of death.
Every moment is depicted with the ferocity appropriate to those times when ignorance prevailed, featuring sudden outbursts of violence that do not aim to glamorize the action.
In this sense, the fights are fast and bloody, without epic duels emphasized with slow motion or other such tricks.
Indeed, in these scenes, we notice the effectiveness of this director’s simple and elegant direction, where other colleagues exaggerate and end up making everything merely ridiculous.
Choosing the right pace with clean and linear editing, the narrative punctuates the twists and turns by surprise at the most unexpected moments and in the most unexpected ways.
Moreover, each character has something to contribute to the overall story, and no one is thrown in just to be a filler.
Black Death is a movie that I only recently got to see and immensely enjoyed, although it did not have great luck at the box office in 2010.
In faith, is there really any light?
Christopher Smith can rely on a first-rate cast, on which I place young Eddie Redmayne among all.
The actor was not a first-timer, though his notoriety had to explode in movies like My Week with Marilyn and The Theory of Everything.
In this story, we can admire his growing up as a faithful God’s servant, albeit struggling with the desire for the beautiful Kimberley Nixon.
However, the world’s cruelty and his actions’ consequences will lead him to become a ruthless inquisitor who will slaughter young maidens in the name of faith.
At the head of this very well-matched and differentiated handful of mercenaries, we have Sean Bean, a face that has been well-known to audiences since The Lord of the Rings.
The actor is now accustomed to the leading role of a charismatic fighter and commander within costume dramas and fantasy, never quite good or evil but always somewhere in that gray area of ambiguity.
As the Christians’ antagonists, we have Carice van Houten, a beautiful and cruel village chief who will bring enormous suffering into the mercenaries’ lives, especially the novice monk.
However, this woman is not sadistic, reacting to the religious oppression and the men who impose it with violence, such as those who killed her husband.
The story really kicks off when she enters the scene, leaving us to decide whether she is a witch with supernatural powers who lies about her human nature or just a clever and skillful alchemist.
Regardless, the narrative twists and turns and the splendidly sad and terrifying ending work whichever way you approach her character.
Unfortunately, Black Death was a movie that ultimately went unnoticed in theaters in 2010, resoundingly failing at the box office.