Black Death: Plenty of Plagues, Pus, and Pestilence

Nothing heralds spring like a plague-and-pestilence movie, and Black Death has the suppuration and body count to fit the bill. Thankfully, it’s also a fairly nuanced meditation on the subjectivity of blind faith and its attendant brutality, and as such works as a worthy companion piece to last year’s Valhalla Rising, right down to the murky palette. The story concerns a novice monk (Eddie Redmayne) in medieval Europe who joins a group of knights sent by the church to find a remote village rumored to be immune to the plague. There’s also talk of a “necromancer” there who resuscitates the dead, whom the brooding leader of the band (Sean Bean) has sworn to kill. Once they arrive, however, the town appears disorientingly idyllic, and its high priestess (Black Book’s Carice van Houten) is a gracious host who’s also easy on the eyes. It’s no surprise that things aren’t exactly as they seem. Screenwriter Dario Poloni and director Christopher Smith provide enough sword-and-sorcery hoo-ha to please the Lord of the Rings demographic, but the movie’s real coup is in how it repeatedly shifts our allegiance from Christians to pagans, interrogating the unfathomably still-popular notion that barbarism is best countered with more of the same.

 
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