The first time I watched Neil Marshall’s The Descent, in a packed theater back in New Jersey, I experienced my brain melting from a combination of joy and terror. My love for horror took a turning point at that moment and to this day, I still believe Neil Marshall created one of the few modern horror masterpieces. Since then, I’ve followed his career and found a love for the werewolf genre in his 2002 film, Dog Soldiers, and was excited to see him work on such series as “Game of Thrones.” Even his critically panned adaptation of Hellboy featured moments that were fun, terrifying (don’t tell me Baba Yaga was not terrifying), and over-the-top. So when it was announced that he would be directing a new horror film set in England during the 1600s, I was excited to see how he would tackle the subject of witchcraft during that time. However, THE RECKONING was a misfired attempt at highlighting the horrific treatment of women and is instead a predictable, regurgitation of what we have already seen within this subgenre.
In THE RECKONING, after losing her husband during the Great Plague, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk, Ocean’s Eight) is unjustly accused of being a witch and placed in the custody of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter, Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee, Dog Soldiers). Forced to endure physical and emotional torture while steadfastly maintaining her innocence, Grace must face her own inner demons as the Devil himself starts to work his way into her mind.
The highlight of the film is by far the execution of the cinematography and the production design. However, the problem with that is the end result looks too clean and tidy during a period of time that was anything but. This resulted in a film that should have had a grittier, dirtier feel to it, but instead felt much too polished. Furthermore, THE RECKONING doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it’s just another film that regurgitates what we have already seen without adding anything exciting or engaging to set it apart from other like-minded films. After a while, the continuous abuse thrust open Grace becomes more about shocking the audience and less about the larger message of what the film is hoping to say.
Even when it came time for us to see the Devil at work, its appearance looked eerily similar to the creatures seen in The Descent, only this time with horns. Nepotism also reigns supreme with the casting of Marshall’s partner, Charlotte Kirk, in the lead role. This was my first time seeing Kirk in action, and, unfortunately, she was not the right fit for a lead role such as this. Kirk also made her feature screenwriter debut with THE RECKONING, along with co-writers Marshall and Edward Evers-Swindell, which may have contributed to a less fleshed out, weaker storyline. That’s not to say that Kirk doesn’t have talent. I just think she needs more time to finesse it.
THE RECKONING doesn’t have much in terms of special features, only including deleted scenes. Funny enough, after watching them I think the majority of those scenes would have been an added bonus to the film. Particularly the one in which we are watching Grace mourning the death of her husband while up above her in a tree is the shadowed figure of the Devil. Additionally, I think having the scene which shows a longer moment between Grace and her mother before her mother’s inevitable death would have added more of an emotional depth to the scene.
Overall, THE RECKONING fails to deliver an engaging horror film and suffers under the weight of poor writing and abysmal acting. Though the strongest aspect of this film is by far the production design, it’s not enough to wash away all these other deficits. Marshall’s films were, for the most part, always ones that I celebrated and recommended, and I hope eventually we get to see him go back to his previous form.
THE RECKONING is now available on Blu-ray and DVD and will arrive on Shudder on May 13.
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