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Thursday, 27 May 2010

Black Death (2010)

I attended the world premiere of this nearly A-list movie last night. 'Big deal' you might say and you would be right. There were no red carpets nor arriving limousines nor papparazzi looking for their latest fix -- just a bunch of die-hard horror fans. In fact the nominal stars of this film -- Sean Bean (I'm always tempted to call him 'Seen Bean' or 'Sean Bawn') and the Dutch actress Carice van Houten -- weren't even in attendance.

This is the fourth film from British horror talent Christopher Smith and we were all present at the invitation of our friends from the annual August FrightFest. Apparently his first three directorial efforts were similarly premiered under their auspices, and while I can remember the premieres of "Triangle" (2009) and "Severance" (2006), I don't recall first viewing "Creep" (2004) on the big screen. All three of these movies were set in the present day and while generally low-budget, did manage to attract bankable stars and showed a keen horror sensibility on the part of their young director. This film, in contrast, is set in England in 1438 at the time of the outbreak of bubonic plague and strives for a definite arthouse sensibility mixed with the ranks of dying and decaying bodies.

A young monk, Osmund, played by Eddie Redmayne -- not an actor I really know -- takes the actual main role. He offers to lead knight Bean's band of mercenaries (lots of familiar British character actor faces here) to find a village that has apparently escaped the ravages of the Black Death and where necromancers are rumoured to bring the dead back to life. He begs for this assignment from head monk, David Warner, because the location is near where he hopes to meet up with his illicit young love. When they finally arrive, the lass is supposedly dead but then seemingly returned to life, leaving young Osmund reeling in horror, and a conflict is thrown up between Bean's and Osmund's Christian fanaticism and the 'old religion' beliefs of the villagers, led by the witchy van Houten. Both sides are convinced that only their ideas are valid -- does this remind one of any modern-day zealots??? -- and the outcome is lots of blood and gore to decimate the valiant cast.

I wasn't all that impressed with the film, although great pains were taken to evoke the period and the production values were certainly high. It was just a little tedious in part and it was hard to empathise with the conflict of interests as portrayed. I didn't think that van Houten -- so good in "Black Book" (2006) -- brought much passion to her role and she looked like she was in two minds about even being there. Bean (or Bawn) declaimed his ideology with dubious conviction. Poor old young Redmayne was left to carry the acting can, including an unnecessary coda which showed him turning into a cold-hearted, avenging destroyer, wreaking havoc on any would-be witches that crossed his subsequent path. I guess that's what happens when young love goes awry.
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