The Black Spider (2022) poster

The Black Spider (2022)


(Die Schwarze Spinnen)

Switzerland. 2022.


Director/Producer – Markus Fischer, Screenplay – Plinio Bachmann & Barbara Sommer, Based on the Novel by Jeremias Gotthelf, Producer – Judith Lictneckert, Photography – Brian D. Goff, Music – Chritian Zehnder & Tim Zehnder, Visual Effects Supervisor – Zoltan Benyo, Visual Effects – Front VFX (Supervisor – Csaba Juhasz), Ionart (Supervisor – Balasz Drenkovics) & Lampion Pictures (Supervisor – Istvan Vajda), Special Effects – Phoenix SFX (Supervisor – Paul Stephenson), Production Design – George Bringolf. Production Company – Snakefilm/Laokoon Eilmgroup/SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen/SRG SSR/Pamy Mediaproductions/Blue/Ascot Elite Entertainment.


Lilith Stangenberg (Christine), Ronald Zehrfeld (Hans von Stoffeln), Nurit Hirschfeld (Maria), Martin Blülle (Jakob), Ueli Jäggi (Father Simon), Philipp Droste (Chrummholzbauer), Fabian Krüger (Polenritter), Josef Ostendorf (Konrad)


The small Swiss village of Sumiswald in the year 1251. The Teutonic Knight Hans von Stoffeln has relocated to the town and demanded that the locals build him a castle. Now that it is completed, instead of allowing the villagers return to their crops, he insists that they spend the next thirty days uprooting and replanting trees to build a tree-lined avenue leading up to the castle. Faced with an almost impossible task, the villagers encounter a cartwright who offers to transport the trees but decline his help. After her father is killed when one of the trees falls on him, the midwife Christine meets with the cartwright and accepts his offer. The price he takes from her is a kiss to the cheek, although she realises that the real cost he wants is an unbaptised child. The next day, they find that the trees are transported and the avenue completed. However, the villagers reject Christine’s claims that the cartwright did it. She falls ill as the mark of his kiss on her cheek becomes infected. Spiders emerge from the infection and overrun the town. The villagers turn on Christine, persecuting her as a witch. Christine’s sister Maria is pregnant by Hans rather than her husband Jakob. As the birth nears, Jakob and the villagers seek to give the baby to the cartwright to rid themselves of the spider infestation.

The Black Spider (1842) is a novel, the best known work by Swiss pastor Jeremias Gotthelf (1797-1854) who wrote several other books during his lifetime. The book tells the story of a mediaeval village that is torn apart by a Pact with the Devil. There had been several prior film versions of the story with the believed to be lost silent film The Black Spider (1921), a Belgian-made tv movie in 1960 and the modernised Swiss-made film The Black Spider (1983).

This new version of the story comes from director Markus Fischer who has been at work in film and tv since the 1980s. Fischer’s major work of note prior to this and one other genre film was Mamorea (2007) about a mysterious sunken village. The film follows Gotthelf’s book with quite reasonably faithfulness. The main differences are that the story at one point has Christine transform into the spider. The film ends with the spider being trapped inside the post but the book has a subsequent section after that in which it is released.

Christine (Lilith Stangenberg) receives the cartwright's kiss on the cheek in The Black Spider (2022)
Christine (Lilith Stangenberg) having received the cartwright’s kiss on the cheek

The film exists in a similar place as other works about the literalisation of the Mediaeval European worldview like The Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey (1988) and November (2017). The film quickly gains a hold as we watch the cruelty of the knight’s demands of the villagers. The writers take their time allowing the story to unfold. The cartwright (Philipp Droste) enters the scene with a great deal of dark charisma. There then comes the point where the deal is completed but the villagers deny the cartwright’s involvement and turn against Lilith Stangenberg. In the film’s most grim section, she is forced to crawl through the village streets chained to a millwheel while the villagers flog her with sticks and pour buckets of muck over her. Throughout, Lilith Stangenberg gives a performance that goes from one driven by piercing looks to that of a feral mad woman.

Much of The Black Spider is a work of moral costs and terrible deals – be it Lilith’s pact with the cartwright, Jakob’s willingness to sacrifice the child the moment he learns it is not his, Hans’s callous treatment of the villagers but balking at sacrificing the child. This is none more evident than when Nurit Hirschfeld goes into labour and Lilith Stangenberg acts as midwife at the same as she refuses to hand the child over to the cartwright, all while she starts to become possessed as she kneels between Nurit’s legs. The writing when it comes to these abrupt twists and turns is extremely well accomplished.

(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay at this site’s Best of 2022 Awards)

Trailer here

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