After the release of Christopher Smith’s 2009 haunting boat trip gone wrong flick Triangle, I was a bit surprised to hear that for his follow-up he was heading to the medieval time period for Black Death, which can be described as Black Hawk Down meets Wicker Man (and not the Nic Cage version either).
While doing his press rounds for his latest project, Dread Central had the opportunity to chat with the British filmmaker about his work on Black Death, how this film is unlike any other period piece you’ve seen, and what it is about the horror genre that keeps bringing him back for more.
Smith’s journey to get Black Death made started while he was still at the helm for the Melissa George vehicle Triangle in Australia. “Halfway through Triangle the original director pulled out of Black Death so the producers contacted me and sent me the script. When I saw on the first page it said ‘1348, the Year of our Lord,’ I was immediately interested because I love that time period. So much of what made that time period fascinating to me was because of how crazy the times were and now to see what has changed in the last 600 years and what, at its core, has not changed at all.”
Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in medieval times, Black Death is centered around a young monk (Eddie Redmayne) who is tasked with leading a group of warriors (led by Sean Bean) who are on a mission to find out the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a remote village that seems to be unaffected by the growing plague of death surrounding them.
However, as Smith finished the script, the one thing he realized is that while the first part of the film was very gritty and realistic, the second half went in a more of a supernatural direction, which wasn’t where he thought the heart of the story was. For him Black Death was about the journey of these men during the very troubled times during the bubonic plague.
Smith explained, “The first half of Black Death is from the original script, and I ended up working with the writer Dario Poloni to rework the second half because originally the film took a fantastical approach, but I didn’t want to go in that direction. I just felt the real story was about these men and what fate held for them in those dark times.”
The filmmaker went on to discuss how he collaborated with cinematographer Sebastian Edschmid in order to deliver a cinematical experience for fans unlike anything ever seen during a period piece horror film.
“I wanted Black Death to be shot in the style of a war movie, like Saving Private Ryan,” said Smith. “There could be no sweeping helicopter shots here- there needed to be an intimacy that draws the audience in so you feel like you were really taking this journey with these characters. I also took my time with a lot of shots, leaving the camera lingering on characters longer than what you see usually these days. It’s pretty common in movies now to see a lot of quick cuts, but I think our approach really gives fans a sense of what it feels like when you’ve hung around a crime scene too long. There’s a cold brutality in that feeling.”
“Another thing we did was to make sure that every kill in the film is just cold and merciless, which is a reflection of those times. You usually see in most modern horror movies that everyone falls victim to their weaknesses, but with Black Death everyone is just brutalized. It’s not their weaknesses that get them; it’s just the cold reality of the situation they’re in,” Smith added.
With Smith being such a huge horror fan himself, he knew that when it came time to create the deaths in the film, practical effects was the only way to go. “Even though we did have a huge CG budget on Black Death, we still opted for practical effects. Everything needed to look authentic not only because the movie has a sense of realism to it but also because I think CG blood always looks terrible and can pull you right out of a movie when you’re watching it. Look at An American Werewolf in London. You know why everything in that movie still looks so great? Because they really did it. And that never ages. It’s brilliant and proves why you should go practical whenever you can.”
Now, with Black Death already available for fans who have access to VOD services and about to hit theaters in a few short weeks, Smith is already looking towards the future and says he still has plenty to offer genre fans in the coming years.
“What I really love about the horror genre is that I’ve just done a movie, Black Death, which fits into the world of horror, and yet it’s a complete departure from anything I’ve done so far,” explained Smith. “There are still so many subgenres in horror I want to explore so I could keep going for a long time and never do the same concept twice, which is what I think makes horror so great.”
“I honestly want to stay working in horror for as long as I can because I really love the genre. I’ve enjoyed the responses I’ve gotten from fans so far, and I just can’t imagine making any other kind of movies, at least for now,” Smith added.
Smith remained tight-lipped on the specifics of what we can expect from him in the near future but gave us this tease. “I’m working on two projects right now, but I can’t really say too much on either of them except that the first one is a film noir piece with some definite horror elements to it, and the second project is a werewolf movie with some very Tarantino-esque qualities to it.”
Black Death – Red Band Trailer
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