I was intrigued by this movie's press release back in the day, but not intrigued enough to pay for it On Demand.
However, it's now on Netflix's Watch Instantly, so I had no reason NOT to watch it. I mean, I'm on vacation and becoming one with nature and all that jazz... but honestly Netflix is something even antelope would agree is terrific, if antelope could talk.
Beware, the following review contains plenty of spoilers...
...mostly because I thought this movie sucked and therefore do not care about your aversion to spoilers.
First up, I'm currently trying to read the second in the Song of Fire And Ice series, A Clash of Kings (it's the sequel to A Game of Thrones.) I'm at a part in the book where some people are renouncing their polytheist system for the ol' one-God way of life. So it's weird that I decided to watch Black Death, thinking it was a medieval zombie movie, only to find out it was about a group of people downgrading their one-God system for the ol' no-God way of life.
Second, we here at Geektress loves our violence. For Pete's sake, our comment prompt word is "beheadings." And to be honest, yes, this movie has beheadings. But, speaking for myself, I enjoy the sorts of beheadings that happen either in the heat of battle, or because the little 13 year old shithead we've just let ascend the throne demands a public execution for his own amusement.
What I find egregious is when there's a fight, and people are getting stabbed repeatedly with swords, and then their heads get chopped off with axes afterwards, apparently for good measure. But again, these are not zombies getting mutilated. In fact, at the end of the aforementioned stabby-then-axey scene, Sean Bean turns to Eddie Redmayne and goes "These were but common thieves," and since Sean and his ol' mercenary group have been charged with hunting demons and demon worshippers, I guess you're supposed to think "Wow, what a bunch of badasses, I can't wait to see what they do to the necromancers," but really all I ended up thinking was "Wow, what a bunch of assholes."
Some backstory for clarification: Eddie Redmayne plays a badly-lit monk named Osmund that has a secret girlfriend whom he's sent back home to try and avoid her catching the plague that's going around (as it did do.) Sean Bean is an envoy of a Bishop, and is named Ulrich. Ulrich rides in to town with a few other bad-looking dudes and an iron maiden (no, seriously,) in order to find a holy man to guide them to a swamp town they've heard hasn't caught the pestilence yet. It's their job, apparently, to find demon lovers and bring their heads back to the Bishop.
Osmund sees this as an opportunity to ditch the monastery and play grab-ass. This predictably goes about as well as you think. A lot of violence -- and I mean a LOT of gruesome, almost totally unnecessary violence -- takes place as the group hacks their way in to the swamp, and then finds themselves at the mercy of -- SURPRISE! -- a witch! Yes, the godless, holistic medicine practicing pretty blonde woman is of course using atheism as a smokescreen to control a tiny little swamp village.
Briefly, it looks like Pagan Lady might actually win the day over the supremely dickish Christian demon hunters. In a way, she sort of does, as she escapes while they slaughter the rest of her village. Her tactics were: (1) convince the monk to kill his own girlfriend (2) try to get the super-God-believing killers to renounce God (3) rip Sean Bean in half. ((4) PROFIT!!!)
She actually has someone crucified and then has Sean Bean drawn and quartered, I couldn't make this shit up if I tried. It was awful. And the way the movie ends? Is that Eddie Redmayne ditches the priesthood, becomes a knight and grows his hair out more attractively. Oh, and becomes a cold-hearted witch hunter like the assholes he was repulsed by at the start of the movie.
OH MY GOSH I GUESS THE LESSON HERE IS THAT WOMEN ARE SNEAKY AND MEN OF GOD WILL ALWAYS WIN WITH VIOLENCE AND MISOGYNY, LOL.
These are photos from the same movie.
I honestly have no idea what this movie was really trying to say. That Christians can sometimes be dickheads? That witches are crafty? That atheists are okay if we just let them alone? John Lynch points out in the final voiceover that the plague eventually reached the swamp towns, anyway, because duh it's the fucking black plague. I.... what now?
An IMDb reviewer wrote "the struggle between the Christians and the pagans is tastefully portrayed with an objective narrative." At no point is that actual or true. In fact, it is almost entirely the exact opposite of all those words. It wasn't objective, it was incredibly grotesque, and there was a really confusing narrative in that there was barely a narrative and also a bunch of confusing scene transitions that had me ask "...the fuck just happened?" out loud.
If you really loved HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation, and in particular you liked Sean Bean portraying a sort-of good-guy, skip Black Death. Also, skip National Treasure. And, to an extent, skip Lord of the Rings. I'd also recommend, if you're staging a Sean Bean intervention, not trying to separate him from alcohol by stabbing him. It won't work.
Just so I don't end this review on a completely bitching note, I will say that John Lynch was my favorite character in the movie, and he does not get killed in some horrific way. He makes it through the whole movie so he can look in to the middle distance and emote. And that's okay, because I kept shouting "DRAGONLORRRRRD!" in my head whenever he was onscreen.