Aiming to capitalize on the recent folk-horror trend, director Neil Marshall — who brought us one of my personal favorite horror films, The Descent, as well as the underrated Doomsday and the less-than-stellar 2019 version of Hellboy — has returned with The Reckoning, a thriller that draws inspiration from the European witch hunts that resulted in thousands of women being executed after being accused of being a witch.
In the mid-1600s there was an influx in witch-hunting activity due to The Great Plague, when many ignorant souls believed the sickness was caused by curses and not infected fleas spread by rats. Disturbing fact: as of this writing, COVID-19 has killed 75,000 more people in the United States alone than The Great Plague.
Charlotte Kirk co-wrote, produced and stars in The Reckoning, a film that centers around an intensely modern-looking woman named Grace Haverstock. Her husband contracts the sickness and decides to take his own life in order to protect his wife and infant daughter, but while Grace is still in mourning, their sleazy landlord attempts to sexually assault her. She rejects him, and then he accuses her of being a witch, setting in motion a series of horrific events she must endure to get back to her child.
Aesthetically, Marshall’s film looks like a ’90s fantasy television show à la Young Hercules. Moreover, as filthy as things were in the 1600s, everything looks too glossy, too clean to be authentic. Even in her darkest moments, Grace (who happens to be Marshall’s girlfriend) is in a constant state of beauty, with makeup always done and nary a single hair out of place. This is a woman who is being tortured on a daily basis and forced to reside in a rat-infested dungeon, so why does she look more kempt than I do after I take a 20-minute nap in the 21st century?
As if the real-life horrors of being labeled a witch and all the terrible things that come with that aren’t enough, Marshall injects these all-too-frequent nightmare sequences where Grace is haunted by her dead husband and later the Devil himself. These serve no purpose to the overall narrative and seem to only exist to throw in some useless jumpscares into the mix. These pointless moments make up a huge portion of the runtime, which, perhaps as a result, feels overly long.
Littered with shaky performances (aside from Sean Pertwee as the witch hunter Moorcroft, who has perfected the role of the villain at this point in his career), The Reckoning too often felt like watching some kind of small-town renaissance faire performance rather than a professional cinematic production.
This is a disappointment as the overall plot, minus the neverending hallucinations and dream sequences, is a compelling one that accurately shows the horrific results of rumor and mass panic. Unfortunately, for every moment of resonance in The Reckoning, there are several more things that work against it. Even the most ardent fans of Marshall’s work will have a hard time finding something to grasp onto with this one, which feels more like a vanity project for his girlfriend than the work of a unique and talented director.