Black Death (15)

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The Independent Culture

The horror director Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance) gets medieval on our ass with this flawed but intriguing morality tale.

Set in 1348 as the Black Plague cuts a devastating swathe across England, it concerns a novice monk, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), who volunteers to help a knight (Sean Bean) in his mission to investigate mysterious goings-on in a remote village beyond the marshes.

Only after they have set out does Osmund realise that Bean's band of men are witch-hunters, and their destination a home to "demons and necromancers". The film is strong on menace, and its portrayal of the wild countryside with Breughel-like peasants and black-hooded flagellators is persuasively creepy. Also Smith packs in plenty of Middle Ages hacking and hewing, though his striving after contemporary resonance (swine flu, torture in Iraq) is less surely handled. The denouement doesn't deliver the required horror – it's no Wicker Man – and it stumbles through an unsatisfactory coda. All the same, there are sterling performances, notably from the flaxen-haired Carice van Houten as an enigmatic sorceress.