I didn’t think The Black Death would qualify for 31 Days of Gore, I just felt like watching it. The fact that it’s very much a movie that belongs here is a happy accident. At first I felt disappointed that it wasn’t as grounded as, say, The Crucible nor as radical and exploitative as Mark of the Devil; movies that exist in the middle of these extremes are typically lifeless and mediocre. Fortunately, The Black Death finds a happy medium between reality and shock value.
The year is 1348 and the Black Death is ravishing England. The Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne plays a monk who breaks his vows of celibacy when he falls in love with a woman. As the plague reaches their region, he urges her to flee into the relative safety of the forest. She agrees, but only under the condition he leaves the monastery once and for all. She’ll wait for him at a predetermined meeting place, but only for a week. If he doesn’t make a decision by then he’ll never see her again.
Torn between his vows and the woman he loves, the monk prays for some sort of guidance. He takes it as a divine sign when a knight named Ulric (Game of Thrones’s Sean Bean) arrives at the monastery, seeking someone who can guide his party through the difficult lands. The monk jumps at the chance as no one else knows the area better and he’s swept away on a miserable and bloody adventure.
It turns out Ulric has learned there’s a remote village which has yet to be afflicted by the plague. Naturally, he and his ragtag group of soldiers suspect there’s a sorcerer there who caused the plague in the first place. The monk is shocked to find that the men he’s traveling with are master interrogators and one of their instruments is a torture device designed to split a human from asshole to chin. These aren’t good men, even though they think they’re doing the lord’s work, but they may just be the closest thing to a hero you’re gonna get from a movie like this one.
To say any more would spoil the horror. Much of the latter half verges on absurd, which would normally clash with the first half’s tone, but it’s a decent little flick. The unhampered violence, which stops just short of full-blown exploitation, will turn many away, but here’s my problem with dismissing it as gratuitous: we live in a time when full grown adults believe the very same superstitions as the characters in The Black Death. It’s much more important to show how horrific senseless violence was rather than downplay it.
So this is a period piece that’s more likely to satisfy fans of horror than anyone looking for a historical drama. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a well-crafted piece of fantasy and it’s a shame it’s not better known. I will say the backside of the climax was a little silly (one character delivers a speech in the manner of a Bond villain), but I can think of several horror films far worse than this. It’s perfect for a Saturday afternoon.