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THE RECKONING (2020)
Directed by Neil Marshall.
Written by Edward Evers-Swindell, Charlotte Kirk, Neil Marshall.
Starring Charlotte Kirk, Joe Anderson, Steven Waddington, Sean Pertwee, Ian Whyte, Rick Warden, Emma Holzer, Cal MacAninch, Mark Ryan, Emma Campbell-Jones, Jordan Long, Leon Ockenden, Bill Fellows, Oliver Trevena, Indianna Ryan, Wayne Brett, Balázs Szitás, Tomas Engström, Sarah Lambie, Maximilian Slash Marton, Callum Goulden, Zsófia Kövágó, Géza Takács, Maja Chityil, Dávid Hajmási, Arthur Dyke, Suzanne Magowan, John Scudder, Margit Bárdos, Angie Kirk
There are few rules in horror, but one of them is when Neil Marshall makes a horror movie, you pay attention. The director of two excellent D’s; THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS, is at it again with a witchy, plaguey horror film called THE RECKONING. Let’s don our plague masks and squawk about it.
Set in the 1665 while the Great Plague swept across Europe and superstitions ran high enabling Witch Hunters to accuse anyone of witchcraft and dealings with the devil, THE RECKONING focuses on Grace (Charlotte Kirk) a tough as nails woman whose husband Joseph (THE CRAZIES’ Joe Anderson) contracts the Plague and kills himself so as not to infect Grace and their daughter. When the advances of her landlord Squire Pendleton (LAST OF THE MOHICANS’ Steven Waddington) are shunned by Grace, he convinces a small group in town to call her a witch. After imprisoning Grace, Pendleton sends for the esteemed Witch Finder John Moorcroft (DOG SOLDIERS’ Sean Pertwee) to torture a confession of conspiring with the devil out of her. But due to a promise she made with her mother who herself was accused and murdered for being a witch, Grace’s will is strong and no matter how heinous the torture she endures, she will not concede.
I found THE RECKONING to be good, but not great. The production values are very high. Everything looks amazing from the scenes of rolling hills of the English countryside to the harrowing shots of burning witches. The acting is top notch as well. Charlotte Kirk is a stunning actress and does a decent job keeping a stiff upper lip despite the horrifying tortures the Witch Finder unleashes. Sean Pertwee, a regular in Neil Marshall films, is equally menacing as the Witch Finder, offering up a large amount of gravitas to his performance. He’s not enjoying this torture but is steadfast in his conviction that he is right and everyone else is wrong. Steven Wassington offers up a strong role as well as the deplorable land baron who causes all of these problems. His is a rather cliched role, but he plays the bastardly blowhard royal well. There’s also a strong supporting role for Suzanne Magowan as Ursula, a woman accused of witchcraft who now serves Pertwee’s Moorcroft as his right hand. Hers is a complex role of someone brainwashed that Moorcroft’s tortures worked a miracle on her and given her a new purpose to help the Witch Finder in his macabre acts.
What keeps THE RECKONING just shy of greatness is that, while a compelling story is told, it’s not necessarily an original one. I believe Marshall was going to authenticity with THE RECKONING, but there have been quite a few authentic and chilling portrayals of witch hunting and the witch trials through the years with WITCHFINDER GENERAL, MARK OF THE DEVIL, and most recently THE VVITCH to name some of the better ones. The story THE RECKONING follows where a woman is accused falsely of being a witch and then fights back against her tormentors is a common one. There are scenes in this film that also reminded me of Mel Gibson’s BRAVEHEART and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, which again focused heavily on the torture and the fortitude of the star enduring these acts. Yes, what Grace endures in THE RECKONING is quite harrowing. There’s one scene involving a gynecological device that is something I can’t unsee despite the fact that most of it is done off screen. But honestly, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before in quite a few other films.
Another thing that turned me off of THE RECKONING was the extremely obtrusive and overly melodramatic score overpowering almost every scene. While the music is wonderfully played, I feel a subtler score might have made the scenes all the creepier and unsettling. The opening which crosscuts back and forth between two spans of time is powerfully edited, but the score really doesn’t do it any favors and permeated the film so much that it took me out of the film, transforming potentially powerful dramatic scenes into sappy soap operatics.
Still, Marshall manages to toss in quite a few scares. I love the designs of the plague masks of those who infiltrate Grace’s home. I also thought the epic scope of the story was well handled. THE RECKONING is definitely not a bad movie at all, but I feel that it is a film I’ve seen before. The attention to the plague will definitely incite parallel feelings with what we all are going through right now in these socially distant times, so I understand why some might feel THE RECKONING is deep and topical. Marshall also pushes forward themes of empowered women which was prevalent in the masterful THE DESCENT, but it just doesn’t feel as powerful a message in this one as it did with that 2005 masterpiece. All in all, THE RECKONING is a well-made film worth seeing, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t compare to more impressively realized films in Marshall’s resume like THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS.