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I made a promise, some time ago, that I would avoid discussing religion overmuch, if at all, on this blog. Yet when Black Death won the poll it was clear that I'd have to sprain that promise. Since it's in the context of a movie, I won't consider it entirely broken. There's also the fact that this film is unflinching, uncompromising and unbiased in its bleak view of religion... and how little it's changed since the time period in which it's set.

Courtesy Egoli Tossel Film

The time is 1348 AD, and the place is England. The bubonic plague ravages the countryside and small villages are especially susceptible to the pestilence. There is rumor of one, however, where not only is the plague not present, but the dead are coming back thanks to a demon or a witch. While some believe that God sent the plague to punish mankind, others think that demons like this one are the cause, and an envoy of the bishop has come with several hard men to root out the demon. He conscripts a young monk to guide him, but the monk has plans of his own.

True to the fire and brimstone of the period, a good descriptor for this movie is 'grim'. The heroes are not shining examples of honor or virtue, even when compared to the worst amongst their opposing number. While the men we follow are servants of the church, they're not paragons of Christianity, nor are the people of the village they finally arrive in kind and generous. Black Death calls into question the intelligence and decency of anyone who takes the world around them on faith alone without preamble or a moment's thought, and while the setting is in a dark age of human history, the question remains if people today are any different.

Courtesy Egoli Tossel Film
At least we have slightly more sanitary infrastructure these days.

Thankfully, this isn't a movie interested in beating you over the head with its message. It simply presents its perspective and lets you dwell on it. While the writing isn't necessarily stellar material, the screenwriters have the decency to leave most of the heavier stuff as visuals and action rather than heavy-handed speeches. The direction clearly delights in the heavy mists, dour arms and armor and spattering gore of most medieval epics, and Black Death does a good job of conveying the dark atmosphere of the age. The best part of the film, though, is the extremely strong cast.

Considering Sean Bean dominates most of the cover art you'll see, you might consider him to be the only actor of note in the piece, and that this flick tries to squeak by on his star power along. You'd be wrong. I was surprised to see David Warner turn up as the abbot in our starting location, while veteran actors like Eddie Redmayne, Tim McInnerny (of Black Adder fame) and a few guys from EastEnders join Sean's ragtag band. And that striking blonde wearing red working opposite Sean is none other than Carice van Houten of Black Book and Repo Men fame. Watching them together makes me wish they'd share a couple scenes in the Game of Thrones series, considering Miss van Houten landed the role of Melisandre.

Courtesy Egoli Tossel Film
Serving R'hllor since 1348.

All in all, I'm glad I watched Black Death. It wasn't the best movie I've ever seen set in this time period or tackling the subject of religion, but it certainly wasn't as terrible as I was dreading it'd be. The mostly realistic bent of its production, the very solid acting and the way the whole thing slides in situation from bad to worse for the characters is actually somewhat gripping in a way I did not expect. I say, put this one on your Netflix Instant queue. You might be surprised.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

I will have to check this movie out. It sounds pretty good. Thanks for this, as I probably would never have heard of it otherwise.

I swear to Cthulu, Sean Bean must have the same set of armor for this, Lord of the rings and A Game of thrones. I'm okay with that sort of typecasting though, and I just might check this movie out now.

Will check it out.

I've been looking at this movie and wondering if I should watch it but no one I know has seen it. Now I have some reference and I think I will watch it.

I had never heard of this movie until I scrolled past it on Netflix. I thought I recognized Sean Bean, and a medieval setting seemed promising. So I watched the flick. Boy, I was not disappointed.

It reminds me of the recent remake of True Grit. But better. This movie is not putting on airs or pretending to be mind-blowing or over-the-top like everything else seems to be. It's just good ole-fashion effective movie making. And it works. You will find yourself quickly drawn in by the characters and story which are well presented without being too ostentatious. The characters have personalities that respond to their experiences. The story will surprise you several times. You will appreciate it even more on repeat views. I don't want to spoil the ending, but when the credits finally roll, you will feel something.

Is there higher praise?

Something must be said about the action scenes: they rock. For once, the fight scenes look like ACTUAL FIGHT SCENES, not post-Matrix dance routines. Every punch feels like it has weight behind it. Blades meet the resistance of flesh and bone. No cringe-inducing 'spin moves' here. You will wince. This shit is raw and visceral.

The settings are extremely interesting. The writers obviously had an interest in history. Much of this is implied by the visuals, such as the frequent use of bogs and watery places to invoke the eerie and supernatural. This is a clear reference to pagan and pre-Christian British cultures, and there are many more. You do not need to know anything about history to understand the film, but I would go so far as to say you will enjoy this movie more if you do. It is full of visual aids that will have you snapping back to history class.

This movie is a departure from everything that is wrong with film-making today. It is the last hope for man-kind. If you do not see this movie, you will never have your parents' respect.



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