Written by: Neil Marshall, Charlotte Kirk & Edward Evers-Swindell, Directed by: Neil Marshall, Starring: Charlotte Kirk, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington & Joe Anderson.
The problem with the internet is that, try as you might you’re never going to avoid other people’s unabashed opinion, and when it comes to opinions regarding movies, they impact your expectations whether or not you mean them to. Now, the irony isn’t lost on me that this is a review of a movie based on my opinion and that pasting my judgments on the internet is my bread and butter. That’s all a review is. An opinion and that doesn’t make me right.
I've been looking forward to The Reckoning ever since I had the pleasure of meeting Sean Pertwee at a horror convention a couple of years ago. We chatted a bit about how much I love Dog Soldiers, and I asked him if he would be teaming up with Neil Marshall in the near future. He went on to tell me about how they were reuniting to make a film called The Reckoning, and I was instantly excited for its release.
Unfortunately, as the reviews started coming in, it seemed as if Marshall and Pertwee’s latest effort was destined to be a disappointment, so sitting down to watch the film, my hopes were anything but high. Happily, The Reckoning served to remind me that, as the saying goes, opinions are like arseholes and sometimes they stink.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that The Reckoning is on par with Marshall’s earlier films, The Descent, and the previously mentioned Dog Soldiers. It’s not, but that’s simply because not much is. Dog Soldiers is a modern cult classic that combines old-fashioned, practical gore with solid, often funny writing that puts it on the same level as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies. The Descent is a very different beast and foregoes the humour of its predecessor in favour of outright scares. It’s a wonderfully crafted, claustrophobic fright flick and one of the scariest movies of the last twenty years. Marshall’s follow-up movies, Doomsday and Hellboy sadly left me cold. Doomsday was kinda okay, whereas the less said about Hellboy, the better.
Set in England during the great plague, (no, the other great plague), a young woman named Grace (Charlotte Kirk) is accused of witchcraft after having lost her husband to suicide. She is promptly arrested and subjected to brutal torture at the hands of Witchfinder General, John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee). With each passing day, Moorcroft amps up the torture, obsessed with forcing a confession from Grace, so that when burned at the stake, her soul may be saved. If history taught us anything, when it came to the Witch trials, you were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t. Grace proves a tough nut to crack, however, and refuses to admit to something that isn’t true, and the film becomes a game of tête-à-tête as Moorcroft devises more horrific pains to inflict on the accused while Grace resolves to take everything that he has to throw at her, claiming that while he may break her bones, he’ll never break her spirit.
One of the many criticisms levelled at the film is the quality of the acting. I’m not sure what film these people were watching, but I couldn’t disagree more. Charlotte Kirk’s performance is captivating. She carries the film beautifully, and I was rooting for her the entire time, as she battled through one horrifying set-piece after another. Sean Pertwee is always great, and I loved what he did with the role of the Witchfinder. Moorcroft is basically an evil piece of shit, masquerading as a fair and just servant of God. I imagine that this particular period in history was filled with men like Moorcroft.
Marshall’s direction is on point. The movie is without question a historical period piece and it looks magnificent. I’m personally fascinated with the Witch trials and plague era Europe, which is probably why I enjoyed the film as much as I did. Visions of rat infestations and plague-masked doctors really add to the bleak terror of what it must have been like to have lived through it. Sure, we are currently in the grip of a modern plague (of sorts) and while I wouldn’t dream of undermining the horror of what Covid has done to the loved ones of many over the last year, I wouldn’t trade places with those who struggled to survive the Black Death.
Those hoping for a more supernatural tone in the film will be disappointed. This isn’t The Witch (2015). The Reckoning is more grounded in reality, focusing more on the genuine horror of what women had to endure at the hands of men. Let’s be honest, I highly doubt that the ones who committed these atrocities really believed that these women were minions of Satan. In all probability, it was more a case of having a convenient excuse to punish women who refused to bow to the whim of men.
As I said before, If you go into this film expecting Dog Soldiers, The Descent, or supernatural hi-jinks, then I’m sorry to say, you’re going to be let down. If, however, you want a well-crafted film that reflects a particularly dark part of history, then I highly recommend giving The Reckoning a shot.