Hellboy reboot director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday) returns to the horror genre with The Reckoning.
After losing her husband during the Great Plague, Grace Haverstock is unjustly accused of being a witch and placed in the custody of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter. 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.
A movie about the witch trials during the Black Death that arrives during a pandemic makes for interesting viewing. As the tagline suggests, “fear spreads faster than the plague”. The persecution of women is nothing new and sadly, some things have not changed much. Given the public and media’s vilification of people and the spread of misinformation over the last year with COVID, it is easy to see how people could get swept along with the notion of believing people to be witches and responsible for their misery.
The character of Grace, as with all women accused of witchcraft, is damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. Essentially a dead woman walking from the moment of accusation. Charlotte Kirk, who also co-wrote the film, provides Grace with a steeliness and toughness that allows her to endure in the face of real evil.
Desperate to draw out a confession, the town calls upon the services of John Moorcroft, The Witchfinder General. Played by Marshall’s lucky charm Sean Pertwee, Moorcroft is the film’s most fascinating character. Blinded by the light of God, as with many religious zealots, he is responsible for many ungodly acts of incredible cruelty and horror in his quest for the “truth”.
When Kirk and Pertwee go head-to-head, the film comes alive. There is spark and energy generated by their battle of wills. If it had just been focused on these two characters, accused versus accuser, this could have been something rather special.
Instead Marshall throws lots of influences into his cauldron, looking for that magic to cast a spell over the audience. There is a pinch of The VVitch, a twist of The Crucible and a splash of the “is she, isn’t she mad” of Rosemary’s Baby as Grace wrestles with images of The Devil that come to her in her sleep.
For a horror film, it is surprisingly tame when it comes to the gore. Sometimes less is indeed more with the audience being able to imagine unseen horrors. However the lack of gruesome detail only serves to shortchange Grace’s struggle. For someone who is being tortured to within an inch of her life, she looks surprisingly pristine after five days of persecution. Instead it opts for a series of lazy, tired jump scares and dream sequence fake outs.
In the final act it gives up on the illusion of being a horror. Evolving into a feminist thriller as Grace plots to to get revenge on her patriarchal oppressors and go medieval on their asses Outlander style.
Hubble, bubble, The Reckoning toils but ultimately will not trouble the pantheon of witchery classics.
The Reckoning is available to watch exclusively on Shudder from May 13th.
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Charlotte Kirk, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington,
Runtime: 110 minutes