The high hopes of Neil Marshalls The Reckoning is quickly dissipated by a run of the mill story with woeful dialogue and one of the most overpowering scores in recent times. This is one that sadly needs to be avoided.
Set against the Great Plague’s backdrop and subsequent witch-hunts against women, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) must grapple with her husband Joseph’s tragic, untimely death (Joe Anderson) in a society completely consumed by fear and death. Because she rejects her landlord Squire Pendleton’s (Steven Waddington) advances, she is falsely accused of being a witch and thrown in jail for a crime she didn’t commit. Grace must endure physical persecution at the hands of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter, Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee), and face her own inner demons as the Devil himself starts to work his way into her mind.
One of the few positives from Marshalls The Reckoning is how well shot it is. The striking images throughout lead us to believe that a better film is hidden underneath the surface here, but there is simply too much wrong here for the film to get by on its visuals alone. The main issue with the film, however, is its utterly terrible script. This script never appeared to reach draft two as some of the lines are so cringe-worthy that you wonder how they got there. There is a moment in which a prisoner warns of a pale horse coming… Yeah, you know that line. Why on Earth they thought the need to include it is quite beyond me.
We also have issues with the story itself; it is just so middle of the road, a story of a woman wronged by those in power and how she must fight to survive with the odds entirely against her. Almost all of the male characters are written as evil or helpless, and it is the empowered women. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but when you see this all the time and done in a better way, The Reckoning needs to do something else to step out from the crowd, and it just doesn’t. The whole narrative takes large swings and misses throughout by filling too much in its far too long runtime.
We have a character who struggles with her husband’s death and has to try and work out how to keep her rented land going while raising her daughter, which in itself, in a horror climate, is sufficient. Yet, Marshall tries to add that as Grace rejects the Squires horrible proposal. She must be a witch and trialled as one to rid her off the land. Fair enough, more hills for our protagonist to climb. But then, as the best torturer in the land is brought I, and Grace is tortured, she also has to see the Devil who merely helps her find the strength amid all the torture to be a middle-ages Beatrice Kiddo.
There is no rhyme nor reason for Grace to get the power to do what she does after literally having her hand and feet (and other body parts) torn to bits. All sensible reasoning took a dive out the window for “cool” moments. The final act brings no emotion to you as you should just be rolling your eyes that someone can do what they do here.
Now for a film set up about witch-hunting torture in the middle ages, you would think that from such a good horror director as Marshall that we should be in for a treat? Well, no, not at all, it is as if Marshall was told to reign it in a bit from going as gung ho as we know he can in these scenes, and we merely get a before and after. Thus other than one quick scream from Grace, we see nothing of the brutality she experiences.
Now I am not saying that we need some torture porn, but as Grace is getting whipped, we are given quick cuts to show her plight, and in plight. I mean some grimaces from Charlotte Kirk. Leaving all of the efforts to show how bad this experience is for her to look like a mild inconvenience if it wasn’t for the pools of blood coming off her or the table she is on.
Speaking of Kirk, she is scrapping a performance here in The Reckoning; she frowns and grimaces well enough, but you are never convinced by her, and if you cannot be convinced about the hell your lead is going through, then what are we even doing here? There is barely any emotion out of her here, and compare that to say Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale, then we are really comparing apples and oranges. As we will speak on later, the film is so taken up with making Kirk look so good as Grace that it forget about her actual character. A total misstep of a performance.
The Reckoning has a serious issue with its score for all of the well shot and directed scenes. The overpowering nature of the score causes what we see to mean less as we are just overcome by the needlessly overbearing music. A prime example is when Moorcroft arrives at the pub and then into the town with the same obnoxiously loud organ wailing away. There is simply no need for it, and for some reason, all of the music is seemingly raised up a couple of notches louder than it ever needs to be, leaving you wanting to move further away from the screen.
Further issues come with how inauthentic Grace appears on the screen; now, we cannot expect a film to make sure our lead has teeth or look 100% as you would expect someone from that era. But when Grace is meant to be a poor farmers wife, she is riding about in bright, beautifully clean clothes and done up to look utterly wonderful, with hair curled as if she is about to start a photoshoot. You begin to feel a separation from the content. This is such an odd choice as almost every character who isn’t Grace has makeup that makes them looks poor. Whereas you would be sorely mistaken that Grace had just come out of a manor house from Pride and Prejudice.
What confuses me so much is that this is the same director who puts effort into making all of his characters in his other films feel as if they live in their setting. For example, look back at The Descent, where that group look as if they have been stuck in that cave being roughed up by their environment. By making these simple mistakes, the audience begins to get lost in caring for Grace’s struggles.
The Reckoning could have been a decent film; it picks up on interesting topics but doesn’t do enough with the parts that work and then tries to add more to make it a muddled mess that long outstays its welcome by the time it’s chaotic finale arrives—such a disappointment.
The Reckoning is released via Vertigo Releasing on Shudder from 16th April
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