Review: Neil Marshall's grim 'The Reckoning' conjures decent spell
Courtesy of RLJE Films/Shudder
Following a string of commercial duds, Neil Marshall is back directing gritty, under-the-radar indies. His “The Reckoning,” takes place in the late 1600s and deals with violent witch hunts and the bubonic plague. In other words, perfect material for “The Descent” filmmaker to get his paws on. The versatile (and extremely gorgeous) Charlotte Kirk plays Grace, a strong young mother who just lost her husband to the plague and is now in the crosshairs of a strict, nasty landlord demanding his rent. When she refuses his sexual advances, he convinces the townsfolk to put her on trial for being a witch.
That’s where notorious WitchFinder, General Moorcroft (a delicious Sean Pertwee) comes into the picture who along with his deformed henchwoman, has plenty of tortuous tricks up his sleeve to coerce a confession. The same tactics were used on Grace’s mother when she was seven years old and who was then forced to watch her burn alive at the stake. Grace is stronger than that, determined to maintain her innocence despite brutal tactics designed for maximum pain.
At one point considered a landmark British filmmaker, Marshall’s brand has soured in recent years with no help from his disastrous 2019 “Hellboy” reboot, but “The Reckoning” plays into his strengths, and provides an excellent vehicle for Kirk - who is also Marshall’s partner - to tackle this grim narrative around the imprisonment of innocent woman. Marshall also sneaks in timely metaphors on the pandemic we’re currently facing, and peer pressure. We live in this digital age where it’s easy to dunk on something even if it’s not true. Here that happens to Grace because one ego-busted man deemed it fit. Crazy how some things, 400 years later, don’t change.
Ian Bailie’s mid 17th century production design is admirable on tight budget constraints, and Luke Bryant’s cinematographer captures the moody setting with ease. Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell screenplay doesn’t always land as Moorcroft’s cheesy and villainous dialogue becomes laughable (and not in a good way) but considering the deluge of grungy films about the fundamentals of supernatural witchcraft, “The Reckoning” manages to cast a decent spell.
RLJE Films and Shudder will release THE RECKONING In Theaters, On Demand and Digital February 5, 2021.