Black Death @ Fantasia

It is the year 1348 and England is being ravaged by a pestilence that is wreaking more death than any war could. Bodies are piling up everywhere. Even a small monastery has been hit. A young novice monk Osmond (Eddie Redmayne – The Other Boleyn Girl, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) urges the girl he secretly loves (as he is a monk) Averill (Kimberley Nixon – Wild Child) to leave for a town past the marshes where he believes it to be safe from the plague. She begrudgingly leaves, but they arrange a place to meet.

A man named Ulric (Sean Bean – Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, Flightplan) comes to the monastery. He is an envoy of the bishop who is looking for someone to guide him to a town on the other side of the marshes. There is a rumour that the pestilence has not affected this town. Osmund, wanting to meet up with Averill, volunteers to lead him. Despite the protests of the Abbott (David Warner – Scream 2, Titanic), the young Osmund is to lead the band of mercenaries on their mission.

After losing one man to the plague and having to battle some common thieves who kill one more of the group and steal their horses, Ulric, Osmund and the rest of the men reach their destiny. On the voyage Osmund has been filled in on the details and they are not reassuring. Supposedly the town has not been touched by the plague because of a necromancing (someone who can raise the dead) demon (Carice van Houten – Repo Men, Valkyrie) who has convinced the residents of the town to turn their backs on God.

Ulric and his men, Dalywag (Andy Nyman – The Brothers Bloom, Death at a Funeral – 2007), Wolfstag (John Lynch – Evelyn, Sliding Doors), Mold (Johnny Harris – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Rocknrolla), Ivo (Tygo Gernandt), and Swire (Emun Elliott), are to capture the demon for a bounty and bring it back to the bishop.

The topics of religion, zealots and fear are addressed in director Christopher Smith's (Triangle, Severance) film about a devastating plague in medieval England. Atmosphere is very important in a film like this. Smith has taken that to heart and obviously spent a lot of time thinking about and putting his energies into the way his film looks. He has done a wonderful job creating the appropriately dark, wet, cloudy, gray, and bloated body look to the film, but it takes more than atmosphere to make a good film.

While watching the kinda slow first part of the film (it does take a lot of time to get to the meat of the story) there is plenty of tension created. But somehow that tension never pays off into anything really gory and frightening. While there are a couple of scenes filled with exploding body parts, blood, guts, and general gore it doesn't really ever match the build up.

I'm not sure who the film is aimed at as it is not scary enough for fans of thrillers and not gory enough for horror fans. It is certainly not a mainstream film with its lack of characters you can relate to or its inability to reach out and grab the viewer. Maybe that is because it really seems to have an identity crisis as a film. It is a horror? Is it an action film? Is it about the supernatural? Or is it a film that wants to investigate theological issues? It seems confused and as a result so was I.

It also features an ending that just shudders to its conclusion as opposed to going out with a bang it is more of a whimper. The ending really is odd. It doesn't really match up well with the rest of the film. Odd decision to tack it on.

Christopher Smith's films have gotten better and more self-assured with each one he makes. He shows fine potential as a director of horror films, but this is not the one that is going to push him over the top.

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