THE RECKONING is directed by Neil Marshall and written by Charlotte Kirk, Marshall, and Edward Evers-Swindell. It is a historical drama with a plague and witch-hunting as a backdrop in England. Charlotte Kirk plays Evelyn Haverstock, wife of Joseph (Joe Anderson) and mother of a young child. Joseph catches the plague and instead of living long enough to infect his beloved wife and child, he hangs himself to spare them the agony. After burying her husband during a storm, Evelyn is visited by her landlord, Pendleton (Steven Waddington) who immediately implies that if she wants to keep her home, she needs to give him what he wants.
Evelyn fights off his attempts to assault her and finds that she has no money with which to pay the rent. Now that she has spurned the landowner’s advances, he accuses her of witchcraft to pay her back. Evelyn is now caught in the witch trials much like her mother had been before her. It is now a test of wills between her and the Witchfinder Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) to see if she can hold out against torture although there doesn’t seem like there’s much of a chance for a happy ending.
Neil Marshall has a reputation as a terrific genre director with horror films like Dog Soldiers and The Descent on his resume. However, for all it’s genre trappings, witch hunts, plague, and a special appearance by Satan himself, THE RECKONING has much more in common with a movie like Rob Roy than recent films like The Witch. This makes sense because even though she’s the daughter of a woman who was executed for witchcraft, like her mother, she’s not a witch. Not even a little bit of a witch. She’s strong-willed which back at that time puts her under suspicion for witchcraft, but there’s absolutely nothing supernatural going on here. She occasionally hallucinates the Devil coming to consort with her from out of nowhere, but hey doesn’t that happen to many of us sometimes?
The film is well made and definitely watchable, but I think it’s slightly wonky in certain aspects. It’s not enough to up-end the whole apple cart, but enough to make me wish it was a little more focused in a specific direction. Charlotte Kirk is unquestionably the star of this film and there’s more than one scene and shot of her nude backside while she’s riding her husband “like pony express”. Don’t get me wrong. She looks great, but it seems a bit like vanity rather than something done in the service of the story. The relationship between Evelyn and her husband Joe is believable and sweet and is probably one of the best things about the film. There are quite a few elements of female empowerment in the story and that’s good. However, Evelyn herself seems more like a symbol than a fully realized character. But since THE RECKONING is essentially a melodrama, that actually works just fine for the film.
One thing that did bother me is that in the many scenes of torture, and there are a number of them, I was not fully sold on the horror of the scenes. In one scene, an implement of torture called The Pear of Anguish is used on Evelyn, and shortly after she’s fairly active. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think she’d be in any shape to do that after having that implement used on her. Another is that a NOBLE SACRIFICE is set up and then we get a just kidding switcheroo that left me feeling a little cheated because I was hoping that maybe they would go there. I would have liked the movie more if they had gone with it. Also, the ending definitely seems like a set up for a sequel because a central issue isn’t resolved.
Overall, I don’t think it’s a terrible movie, but I don’t think it’s a great one either. It’s somewhere in the middle and that’s okay. I know people who would probably enjoy it and that’s not a bad thing.
THE RECKONING had its US Premiere at this year’s Beyond Fest.