There might not be another movie with so timely a premise: a witch hunt during a plague. In these times of our society starting actually to address how we treat women and, you know, a plague, The Reckoning has a lot going for it right out of the gate.
Add to this writer and director Neil Marshall, a man who has a history of putting out high-grade b-movies that I tend to love and suddenly you have a compelling sales pitch for a film.
I’m pointing all of this out because The Reckoning is a stunning example of a film that has everything going for it but then fails to capitalize on any of it.
Set in the 1600s, Charlotte Kirk plays Grace, a woman who has just lost her husband to the plague currently going around the shire she lives in. Her landlord, the amoral and self-centred Squire (Steve Waddington), still demands rent be paid despite the fact that she can’t work the land and has a newborn and tries to take payment by other means.
By “other means”, I mean he tries to rape her, and when she rebuffs him with a well-placed heel to the face, he returns to town and starts the rumour that she might be a witch. Enter a Witchfinder played by Sean Pertwee and an hour or so of torture.
And that’s it. That’s the whole movie. Grace is tortured and refuses to break. She hallucinates her dead husband and the devil she is accused of consorting with, but nothing comes of these scenes. The Reckoning, in fact, has multiple opportunities to go in more interesting directions, and it takes none of them.
It probably sounds like I am giving away the whole plot, and while I assure you that there is more to the story, I can also assure you that there isn’t much more because the film doesn’t have anything to say. Instead, the primary thing that Marshall seems interested in is showing off Kirk. The world of the 1640s that he and his production design team have created looks great, except that Kirk often looks like she strolled in from 2020, with perfectly tweezed eyebrows and makeup.
Sean Pertwee, for his part, seems to have a great time as Witchfinder torturing Grace, but he seems to be acting in an entirely different movie.
I will admit that I had high expectations for The Reckoning. Some of Marshall’s previous films, such as Dog Soldiers, The Descent, and Centurion, are all films I find fun and endlessly rewatchable. I hope that with his next project, he gets back to making that kind of movie.
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