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ARROW IN THE HEAD REVIEWS

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Black Death(2011)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Christopher Smith

Starring:
Sean Bean/Ulric
Eddie Redmayne/Osmund
Carice van Houten/Langiva
David Warner/The Abbot
8 10
PLOT-CRUNCH
Set within a plague filled Medieval England, a God fearing Knight (Bean) and his recruits are led by a young monk (Redmayne) to a mysteriously plague-less village that may or may not be ruled by a necromancer (a person able to raise the dead).
THE LOWDOWN
Although my relationship with Christopher Smith's movies has been uneven (loved Severance, was so-so on Creep and Triangle would have floored me if it wasn't a shameless rip off of Timecrimes); his latest effort BLACK DEATH was welcomed with open arms and zipped down zipper. Spit what you will about Smith; in my Bible, there is no denying that he is a superior genre filmmaker, one that gets better at his craft with every film. I always find some genius in his pictures; even the ones I'm not 100% on.

In terms of BLACK DEATH, this cinematic vice-grip appealed to me on many levels. It was ably paced while dread was in the house, oozing off every frame 24/7; even when there was nothing seemingly going on. The look of the picture with its washed out cinematography, grim rural settings and Smith's restrained yet impactful shooting style brought to mind classic genre films of old. It almost felt like I took time machine and went back to the 70's; a time when they took chances and created movies as opposed to making assembly line products posing as films. There was mucho care put into this one; I felt it via its attention to its characters and the details of the time (production design was tops)... and I appreciated it big time. Thematically, religion (namely Christianity) was on trial and the film slyly covered that ground, exploring it via its varied players (the believers, the ones in the middle, the non believers), their own personal struggles as to their faiths and letting us the audience decide where we stand as to the whole shebang.

By default the self destructive nature of man and his timeless knack of turning on his brothers in moments of adversity was addressed as well. It always makes for a compelling theme to digest onscreen (not so much in the news though...)! As I've mentioned in past reviews; I was raised Catholic and theology fascinates me to this day, specially when having to do with its place within our society then and now... so yeah... this one had my wheels spinning. The acting power backing up the cerebral shenanigans resulted in the anvil dropping even harder. Mr. Smith whipped out the big guns for this one! Eddie Redmayne (who reminded me of young James Caviezel) gave a poignant performance as the young Monk and his character arc had me by the jewels. The lovely Carice van Houten (of Paul Verhoeven's Black Book fame) was mesmerizing as the mysterious “woman” that kept me guessing... all I'll say about her role. As for Sean Bean; he shared an electrifying chemistry with his male cohorts (the talented John Lynch, Andy Nyman, Johnny Harris and cie) and he once again possessed the scenery with his grounded yet commanding display. Talk about presence! All that dude has to do is stand there and you can't take your eyes off him. And thankfully here; he did wayyyyy more than that, so you do the math. I got BEANED! Seriously though Sean Bean needs more roles like this in more films like this.

A little aside if I may; now that I think of it; I adored the core group at play here: the mercenaries and their leader the Knight. The man's man aura they had, the brotherhood they shared and their sense of honor and values did it for me. Even though these were flawed human beings; I got attached to them; because they had heart and respect for each other. The earnest characterizations and the stellar performances behind them owned me hardcore. It needed to be said! Props! Add to all that quality; solid visual effects by Chris Kunzmann (the grisly consequences of the plague and the battles looked mucho credible); an evocative score by Christian Henson (who also did the music for Smith's Severance and Triangle) that really brought it all home with gusto and a last act that was charged by a slew of gripping twists and turns and you get a stand-out horror opus; one that stimulated my grey manner and mashed my gut into putty.

Any negatives to slam down? Yes but not really. The slow motion looked all kinds of wrong; something was off with it and it didn't give the "moments" the intended effect. But that's nitpicking. And was I alone in yearning to see Sean Bean crush more skulls? For some reason I kept waiting for him to open up a huge can of whoopass with his sword and he randomly did, just not enough for my liking. Again, minor. My main beef with the picture though, was that at the end of it all, I yearned for further closure. As the ends credits rolled I was like "Come on man, give more than that, I need concrete answers!" No dice; the flick told me to step off and get a life. The tricky thing was; the ambiguous nature of it all was also one of the film's main strengths... its point to some degree... so go figure. All in all, BLACK DEATH hit the spot! It was THE WICKER MAN for this new generation if ya ask me! I was hooked, lined and pummeled throughout. THANK YOU to all involved.

GORE
We severed limbs, ripped off arms, crushed heads and more. Not overly gory but brutal as f*ck.
T & A
Nothing worth mentioning.
BOTTOM LINE
BLACK DEATH was the real deal! A well written, though provoking and gripping piece of horror cinema. The acting was stellar (when in doubt.. Bean... pass it on), the characters endearing, the brutality cranked up to booya whilst the narrative kept my noggin going in overtime. Less awkward looking slow motion and some solid answers at the end would have been nice for this jerk; but on a whole I was mucho content with one. If you're in the mood for a genre flick that's a little more high brow and definitely better put together than the Studio drivel we've been getting? This potent case of DEATH is for you!
BULL'S EYE
Lena Headey and Famke Janssen were both attached to the role of Langiva at some point. Carice van Houten wound up playing her.

The flick was written by Dario Poloni who also wrote Wilderness (2006).

Look out for veteran actor David Warner in a small role. Dude owns!

Sean Bean was born on April 17 1959 in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, UK.
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