The year is 1348. Europe has fallen under the shadow of the Black Death. As the plague decimates all in its path, fear and superstition are rife. There are rumors of a village hidden in marshland that the plague cannot reach. There is talk of a necromancer who leads the village and is able to bring the dead back to life. Ulric (Sean Bean), a fearsome knight, is charged by the church to investigate these rumors. Joined by a young monk and a small consort of soldiers, the journey ahead will lead them into the heart of darkness where faith is challenged and put to the ultimate test.
As with almost every film we review, Black Death was met with mixed opinions from ScreenAnarchy writers. The film isn't terribly divisive, however, perhaps that is its greatest weakness, perhaps there isn't as much to love about the film as there is to admire. Among the films proponents around here was Weinberg, who praised it in his review from Fearnet
Kudos to Smith for presenting the tale with a firm directorial hand, an admirable sense of ambiguity, and a low-key attention to detail. There are dozens of ways for a "dark adventure period piece horror film" to get really clunky really quickly, but the director (working from a very sharp Dario Poloni screenplay) never allows for the pulpy speeches, the obvious jolt, or the overwrought, over-costumed silliness that plague many a similar film. To its inestimable credit, Black Death takes the gamble of playing it dead straight, and it's what elevates the film from a simple genre exercise to something much more intelligent,
challenging, and darkly satisfying.
The same film was met with more middling praise from James Dennis:
Neither as polished and meticulous as Triangle, nor as blatantly crowd-pleasing as Severance it feels oddly muted and lacking cinematic scope. In spite of all this, it's a hard film to dislike. Smith and his cast radiate a gameness and
enthusiasm for the subject matter, and it's an entertaining if not remarkable genre piece.
I found the film to be solid, if unremarkable. The characters all feel real enough, but there just isn't a whole lot to sink your teeth into. The brief battle sequences, when they appear, are noteworthy for their savagery, not the type we usually see in period films, but they are too brief and too far between. There is an awful lot of silence in the film, which dragged the story a little bit. Overall, I feel that Christopher Smith and his cast put forth a valiant effort and made a very good film, though with a bit of punching up, it could have been great.
Magnet have put out another very solid A/V presentation for Black Death on Blu-ray. The image feels very filmic, with a lovely sheen of grain apparent but not obtrusive during the darker sequences. The image is sharp, and the colors are appropriately muted, all-in-all, it seems correct and accurate. The audio portion is similarly good. The film is fairly dialogue heavy, and those long stretches without action are represented well in the front speakers. When the action picks up, the audio takes off, spreading the sound all the way around the DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound field. I think the film looks and sounds every bit as good as it should.
The extras are adequate, but not exactly exemplary. There is a ten minute EPK featuring interview snippets from the director, producer, and cast and some behind the scenes footage which is solid enough. Then there is a thirty minute section featuring interviews with those same people which is obviously just the raw footage of the interviews from the EPK, which means a lot of overlap. In addition there are a few extraneous deleted scenes, a promotional piece from HDNet, a digital copy, and a trailer. Overall a very standard extras package.
Magnet Releasing's Black Death is a solid genre film unlike most we've seen recently. The film takes its subject very seriously, and that gives it a real feeling that I like and means that I'll probably revisit it soon enough. Recommended, but perhaps worth a rental first.
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