Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
The Devil Plays Hangman For Your Attention
The Reckoning is the latest so-called “horror” film from British director Neil Marshall. He has an interesting career as a filmmaker that could best be described as a mixed bag. Marshall seemed to pique with 2005’s The Descent and Dog Soldiers is known for being a borderline great werewolf film, but his other four full-length feature film directorial efforts all vary in terms of mediocrity.
Taking place in England in 1665, The Reckoning occurs when The Great Plague was at its worst. In the midst of the sickness, Witch Finders were tracking down those who were believed to be witches, torturing them, and burning them at the stake. A woman named Grace (Charlotte Kirk) has a newborn daughter with her husband Joseph (Joe Anderson), but Joseph soon gets the plague. He hangs himself before his symptoms get too severe. Unable to pay her rent, Grace is accused of being a witch after refusing the advances of Squire Pendleton (Steven Waddington).
Separated from her baby and tortured for days on end, Grace is now on trial with visions of her dead husband lurking behind every shadow. To make matters worse, Grace begins fantasizing about being seduced by The Devil.
The film’s promotional material featured several individuals dressed in plague doctor masks and it was awesome; bird-like in appearance with long noses that are similar to beaks. Unfortunately those masks are only utilized for two extremely short sequences. The Descent was groundbreaking in the sense that it not only had an all-female cast, but it featured a strong female lead. Neil Marshall seemed to be tapping into that same sense of a strong female presence in The Reckoning.
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Grace never falters after five days of torture, but Charlotte Kirk is an awful actress. She seems to milk every line that is given to her by exaggerating her accent and stretching out every syllable. It’s as if she’s merely trying to be as overdramatic as possible. When Charlotte Kirk and Steven Waddington share screen time together it’s as if they’re competing to see who can be more unbearable.
The storyline is an incoherent concoction of miserable nonsense. Grace sees her dead husband throughout the film along with The Devil and she makes love to each of them (separately). However, The Reckoning never clarifies if these are just hallucinations Grace is experiencing thanks to the loss of her husband. Maybe it’s due to distress and exhaustion from all the torture Grace goes through. If she’s innocent, why is she seeing The Devil? Is it even the actual Devil or just what Grace conjures up because it’s what she believes he looks like? We never know and we honestly don’t care.
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There are a few impressive elements implanted into The Reckoning. You can’t understand a word he says, but the design of The Devil and his bat-like wings are fairly cool. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sequence of someone’s head being squished under a wagon wheel. It’s done with practical effects and is such a juicy and satisfying squish.
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Sean Pertwee portrays John Moorcroft, a man who specializes in making “witches” confess while using horrific forms of torture. The Reckoning is the third time Pertwee has collaborated with Neil Marshall. This is all worth mentioning since Pertwee is vastly more talented than everyone else in the on-screen cast. He acts circles around them and you actually want to see more of his character despite his delusional beliefs. Moorcroft truly believes that he’s doing the work of God and he’s mesmerizing thanks to how delusional he is.
The Reckoning seems to capture the ambience of the time period well. The plague killed so many and was terrifying, but people always have the capability of being even scarier. Back then, people would label someone a witch simply because they couldn’t get what they wanted. Once that happened there was no taking it back. Moorcroft and men like him would torture innocent women and get them to confess to being a witch solely to save their reputation. Sickness, no matter how deadly, is temporary. The indulgence of man is eternally devastating.
Neil Marshall tried make a revenge film in the vein of The Nightingale and wasn’t able to cut it. In The Nightingale, revenge is earned. The audience experiences the horrors first hand, so the bloodshed is warranted. In The Reckoning, Grace merely walks off nearly an entire week of torture and no sleep. She goes for a light jog after her lady parts are stretched and mutilated beyond repair. The Reckoning is just gallivanting about with no real purpose.
Described as an adventure horror film, The Reckoning is like a bad soap opera with a few squirts of blood and an eyeful of lady butt cheeks for good measure. Its two hour runtime caters to indulgent melodrama over horror, adventure, or anything that would actually resemble entertainment.
© 2021 Chris Sawin
Chris Sawin (author) from Houston, TX on February 08, 2021:
I like Doomsday despite it being a total mess. And Centurion is okay, but yeah. Hellboy isn't great.
Noel Penaflor from California on February 08, 2021:
The Descent is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. Everything Marshall has done after that has been...no.
You'd think after the Hellboy debacle...