Osmund (Eddie Redmayne, PIllars of the Earth) is a young monk torn between his love for a girl he grew up with, Averill (Kimberley Nixon) and his strong desire to serve God. When he sends Averill back to their hometown to escape the Plague, he pleads with God to send him a sign as to whether he should stay in the monastery or go with her. Soon thereafter Ulric arrives, seeking a guide to the mysterious village, which happens to be very close to Osmund's hometown. He takes it as a sign and offers to lead them, hoping to slip away from the group and meet his beloved before he loses her forever.
His task soon becomes more than he bargained for as he realizes that this band of violent and dangerous knights are not out for just the truth, but also blood. When Osmund goes to meet Averill, he finds nothing but her spilled blood and an article of her clothing, as highwaymen emerge from the forest. He is able to warn the group of knights in time for them to fight back, but they are not without losses to their own. They seek refuge at the very village they are looking for and all is not as it appears. There is no sign of the Plague here, but they are led by a beautiful and mysterious woman named Langiva (Carice Van Houten), who is a healer and tends to their wounds. She also shows a devastated Osmund the body of Averill, whom the villagers rescued from the forest shortly before she died.
It soon becomes clear that the village members know the true reason for the knights' arrival. Langiva lures Osmund to the dark forest so he can watch her bring Averill back to life, hoping that he will side with the village. The knights and Osmund soon find themselves captured and their edict is to renounce their God or die brutally. A battle of wills soon erupts between these violent but dedicated Christian men and the villagers who seek to destroy them, with the climax leaving no one untouched.
Black Death is a great action/horror film, especially if you like period pieces. Sean Bean is just amazing and truly owns the role of Ulric, while Eddie Redmayne perfectly plays the role of the confused and troubled young monk. The supporting actors are also terrific and run the gamut from Wolfstan (John Lynch), the stalwart knight, to Mold (Johnny Harris) and Dalywag (Andy Nyman), skilled butchers, to even-tempered Swire (Emun Elliott), who is just in it to make money for his family, to mute but dedicated Ivo (Tygo Gernandt). Lastly, Hob (Tim McInnerny), Langiva's right-hand man, is truly disturbing in his cheerfulness, even as he tortures the knights and Van Houten as Langiva is both bewitching and troubling.
If you have a high def setup, then definitely go with the Blu-ray version. The surround sound is the most outstanding aspect, even outweighing the lush and crisp visuals, because you will hear eerie sounds all around you all throughout the movie and it will truly keep you on edge. Special features include a handful of deleted scenes, a hefty selection of short interviews with most of the actors and pivotal production members, plus a couple of featurettes on the background of the film. While some material is repeated between the special features, they are still very interesting. The only one that seemed a bit pointless was the behind the scenes footage, which had no explanation, just footage of production.
Overall, if you don't mind a bit of the ultra violence and you enjoy horror/action films that take place in medieval times, you'll probably love Black Death. While I thought I might be offended at some of the anti-religious aspects of the film, they were actually handled quite well and I enjoyed the startling ending to the film (although I can't say that it took me completely by surprise). I like it when Hollywood doesn't take the easy road and this film explores a dark time for religion and does it well.