What You Need To Know:
The direction and writing in BLACK DEATH are sometimes impressive. BLACK DEATH comes down first on one side, then the other, offering some sympathetic, positive views of the Christian characters as opposed to the pagans. In the end, however, both sides are shown to be suffering under delusions that, taken to their extreme, lead to brutality. Also, the violence is excessively graphic. Only atheists may enjoy BLACK DEATH’s trick ending.
(HHH, C, O, AbAb, L, VVV, N, AA, MM) Very strong humanist, cynical worldview that ultimately attacks all religion as a delusion, in a medieval plague story where Christians are pitted against pagans led by a witch, and both sides come out looking rather bad, plus there are numerous anti-Christian comments made by the townspeople that the Christians confront, as they scoff at prayer and the goodness of Christianity’s God, which, of course, includes Jesus Christ; two “f” words and no profanities but some anti-Christian statements by villains; extreme violence and torture in a few sequences (although some of the torture or killings is implied or done offscreen with the results rather than the actions visible), includes an epic sword battle where a man is decapitated onscreen and another man has his arm cut off at the elbow, numerous other quick shots of stabbings and throat-slittings, captured woman shown hanging by her wrists as a metal clamp is put on a toe and breaks it, and character drawn and quartered, pulled to pieces graphically onscreen; upper male nudity by two men in separate naturalistic situations, including one where man takes shirt off to reveal that he is laden with the plague and that getting split into pieces will punish the witches in a town by infecting them; alcohol use and drunkenness; no smoking but men are drugged and put to sleep to be imprisoned; and deceit, men poisoned and imprisoned after they wake up, betrayal, lying, and monk becomes hardened and full of revenge after terrible traumatic experience.
BLACK DEATH follows the grim adventures of a band of men hired by the Catholic Church during medieval times to hunt down a town that reportedly has been left utterly unaffected by the plague. Rumor has said that the townspeople are led by witches and have made a pact with the devil in exchange for health and immortality.
Along the way, the leader, Ulric, picks up a novice monk-in-training, Osmund, for extra Godly protection, but the young novice already has doubts about his vocation due to secretly loving a woman. His faith is further tested by the brutal events that occur on their journey.
Eventually, the men get to the mysterious village, where they are treated to nicely before they realize their drinks have been drugged. They all wake up in captivity, awaiting torture and death if they refuse to renounce their faith in Christ. All but one man maintains their faith, with two killed for it, before the monk and other protagonists engage a quick battle to surprise the townspeople and prevent them from killing the others.
In the end [SPOILER ALERTS], the young monk returns to his monastery but has changed for the worse. Thus, the only other surviving person narrates that the young man has gone mad and wants to engage in wanton killing in the name of taking out witches, even if he’s killing the wrong women. Ultimately, both the Christianity of the men and the paganism of the townspeople are seen as false.
BLACK DEATH comes down first on one side, then the other, offering some sympathetic, positive views of the Christian characters. In the end, however, both sides are shown to be suffering under delusions that, taken to their extreme, lead to brutality.
The direction by Christopher Smith and writing by Dario Polone are sometimes impressive, especially when making a fully believable medieval world come to life. Alternating between graphic action and subtle, intelligent dialogues about God, good and evil, the movie offers some food for thought. The cast – particularly Redmayne as the young monk and Van Houten as the lead witch – are outstanding, making “Black Death” grim but provocative fare. The violence is excessively graphic at times, however, and the movie finally reveals its humanist, anti-supernatural viewpoint. Thus, in the end, viewers have been duped, and there are no real heroes, just brutal misguided fools. In a way, this is a trick ending that only secular humanists may enjoy.