The latest from horror master Neil Marshall, “The Reckoning” does a lot right, but it makes some big missteps that keep it from being great.
The Great Plague of London, lasting from 1665 to 1666, was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England. The 17th Century was a barbarous time, and director Neil Marshall illustrates that in The Reckoning, a tragic tale of witch-hunting and unimaginable brutality.
I was excited about The Reckoning. Director Neil Marshall is responsible for one of my favorite horror films, The Descent, so, I had high hopes for this period piece being just as amazing as his past works.
Spending most of the movie showing the four horrific days Grace (Charlotte Kirk) spends in prison while being tortured in an attempt to get her to confess to witchcraft, the film had the potential for being a cool horror flick. Witch stories have been a favorite of mine, ever since I was a kid vacationing in Salem, Massachusetts, joyfully feasting on all the stories about the witch trials there.
But I am sad to report, this film did not live up to my lofty expectations.
Set in 1665, The Reckoning introduces us to a group of people known as Witchfinders, led by the evil Judge Moorcraft, (Sean Pertwee) who are empowered with seemingly unlimited power to seek out, interrogate and viciously punish folks they have predetermined as practicing witchcraft. Mostly women, these souls usually have done nothing wrong but cross the wrong person.
One such unlucky woman, Grace Haverstock, becomes their next victim, simply because after her husband dies, she is not willing to pay rent to her landlord Pendleton (Steven Waddington) with sex.
Being an ass who is afraid of being humiliated in front of the other guys at the pub, the predator starts some nasty rumors about Grace having a pact with the Devil. Judge Moorcroft (more like judge, jury, and executioner) has Grace arrested, sent to the castle dungeon and her house burned to the ground. He is also the man responsible for burning Grace’s mother at the stake when Grace was only a child. A fact that is not lost on her.
Most of the film chronicles Grace’s unfair and tortuous trial. Women had a rough time in the 17th century and apparently it was ok to get a confession out of the accused by using any means necessary. She is whipped, beaten, stabbed, kept awake, starved, and impaled by some extremely painful and sexualized devices. To say she was tortured is an understatement. Moorcroft is helped by a very burned and unhappy woman named Ursula (Suzanne Magowan). She herself has been to hell and back and has no mercy to give Grace, as she twists a horrible device to the point of practically tearing Grace to pieces and causing the maximum torment possible.
I think this is where I had to cry time out.
Yes, Grace is a strong and resilient woman, but no one could survive this horrific trauma. Let alone be up running around being a badass vigilante fighting for her life soon after.
Before I say anything else, I need to say how fantastic the sets looked, and the cinematography was gloomy and quite beautiful. It is a fantastic-looking film. Grace’s nightmares were frightening, and I always love a good Devil! I felt chills from the wonderful and creepy plague masks and all the sad dirty people in the town.
I really enjoyed hating the evil villains in this tale, with Moorcroft being a standout, so I also looked forward to them hopefully getting what they deserved.
Well-done practical SFXs always make me happy. Visceral and shocking, each moment of torture looked real, and the dead plague victims were very distasteful indeed. Ursula’s burns were horrible to look upon too, so this too was a positive point for the film.
The problem for me was the central character, the person we were supposed to care the most about, Grace Haverstock.
Charlotte Kirk co-wrote the film and did herself no justice with the character. She was the weak link for me. Her Renaissance Faire style dresses that looked too clean, full-face-beauty makeup with curled hair, and stoic acting took my attention away from the story.
I also admit there were a few times when silliness got away from me, and I found myself yelling “She’s a witch, burn her!” in a very Monty Python sort of way. I got taken so far out of the story that I started being goofy. That should not have happened.
Luckily, there is a satisfying story of revenge that makes The Reckoning watchable in the end. But there were so many problems and plot holes that the film never really got the chance to redeem itself, to me. But for fans of historical horror and witches, I think it’s a well-done film, and the cinematography is truly amazing.