Christopher Smith's "Severance" was an overrated letdown of a British horror-comedy, so I didn't have much faith in the director when I watched "Triangle" a couple years ago. But "Triangle" was nearly a masterpiece -- one of the best combos of sci-fi and horror in ages. A great movie. Expectations were considerably higher for his next venture, a medieval horror film set during the Black Plague, called "Black Death."
While not as good as "Triangle," "Black Death" does solidify Christopher Smith's standing as a great horror filmmaker. This is the kind of movie that the original Hammer studios may have made.
With an awesome cast led by Sean Bean and with gorgeous scenery and photography, "Black Death" has the look and feel of a low-budget "Lord of the Rings" film during its first half. Eddie Redmayne plays a young monk in a sinful relationship with a village hottie (Cynthia Nixon) who wants to run away with him. When she takes off, frustrated by his hypocritical devotion to the church, he thinks he finds an opportunity to go after her.
A group of warriors visit the monstery he's staying here, with news of a nearby village that is mysteriously not being touched by the Black Plague that is ravaging the rest of the countryside. They believe it's magic. Figuring this is his chance to get out of the monastery and rekindle his relationship with his true love, the young monk jumps at the opportunity to serve as the warriors' guide to the area.
The first half of the film consists of the small band of warriors' journey to said village. The last half is set within the village, where naturally the townsfolk practice witchcraft, led by a relatively hot female wiccan (Carice van Houten). When evidence surfaces that the wiccans can raise the dead, the mystery deepens -- and when the pagans realize the warriors in their midst are not just drifters looking for a place to stay, but Christian killers, the torture and mayhem inevitably commences.
Tackling the touchy subject of religion better than any movie since Mel Gibson still had his sobriety, "Black Death" is a thought provoking, thinking person's horror movie and one you'll talk about long after you see it. In the weighty ideological battle between love-friendly paganism and martyr-embracing Christianity, Smith's film ultimately weighs in on the side of Jesus. But what horror movie wouldn't?