Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fantasia Day 16 - Black Death

This highly anticipated story of a team of knights on a mission to capture the necromancer of a village mysteriously untouched by the plague definitely delivered but didn't quite reach the heights of terror and mystery that I had hoped for. The set-up, the filming, the acting are all excellent. The first half of the movie had me inwardly rejoicing at its depiction of plague-torn england and the various character types that thrive in reaction to it. Sean Bean is outstanding as the grim, determined leader of the knights and there is a great scene where his dominant personality and position pressures the abbot (a surprise appearance by the always good David Warner, as weighty as ever) to allow one of his young monks to guide the party.

Following that scene and then the party's travels through the countryside, I was really psyched. When they finally do get to the village, I had very high hopes. The scene where they first enter in is a fantastic piece of nearly dialogue-free filmmaking. So much tension! I'm sure the waried, curious expressions in the eyes of the knights as they looked around this idyllic place was reflected in the faces of all the audience members. I know I was like "man, what the fuck is going on here?"

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn't quite equal the set-up. It's still really good, continuing the conversation that Ken Russell has in The Devils, of religious fundamentalism and the conflict between local culture and organized religion. I'm making it sound boring, which it wasn't. It's taut and intense, it's just that it's never really scary and remains grounded in reality, whereas I was hoping for the truly fantastical and horrific. In terms of our real world, it is nevertheless quite horrific and the coda that follows it is truly depressing and damning.

The cinematic portrayal of the period is great, both in the design and in the storyline. The locations are gorgeous and it is filmed with a slight graininess (Super 16, I learned in the Q & A) that tones down the high production shininess you often get with new movies dealing with the past, but still keeps it looking good. There is a great battle scene, with some awesome spiked mace action.

Black Death is a great movie (and made me want to learn more about the plague) that chooses to explore the darker human side of religion rather than going into the supernatural. Going for the latter choice (which was in the original screenplay) I think may have made it explode more and appeal to me at an entertaining level, but I think the actual direction taken makes for a richer, more thoughtful film. Definitely go see it if any of the subject matter is appealing to you.

(Excuse my sloppy reviews for today. I'm rushing them out as I've got a lot of chores and errands to do on my Saturday and I don't want to get behind as I've got a triple-header tonight: Centurion, The Last Exorcism and If a Tree Falls).

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