Neil Marshall, when focused, can be a great source for pulpy genre fare that both has something to say while also being incredibly entertaining. With The Reckoning, the opening film of the Fantasia International Film Festival and his first feature after 2019’s Hellboy, Neil Marshall finds himself in the shadow of scandal and even worse, a downright forgettable film.
It all starts so well: It’s 1665 England, and Grace’s (Charlotte Kirk) husband (Joe Anderson) has ended up with the sickness. While she seeks a remedy, he hangs himself, leaving her and their child defenseless against wanting men and gossip. Both turn violent, and Grace soon finds herself accused of being a witch and facing both the scorn of her people and the vicious tactics of a witch finder (a wonderfully hammy Sean Pertwee) who wants nothing more than guilt to see the light.
From there, or to be frank even before then, everything falls to pieces.
It’s just so dour. The entire film is centred around torturing its main character in escalating ways to get her to admit to something we all know isn’t true, and her endurance is her way of fighting back. That’s all well and good, but proves to be rather empty when the next day it starts all over again without any sign of them breaking and accepting her truth.
Grace could put up a fighting chance to prove her innocence, or at least mock and intimidate them against impossible odds to make a stand against injustice. Instead, she’s resigned herself to the pain and almost welcomes the torture that eats up two-thirds of the film by staying firm. We’re told over and over of the irrefutable proof against her, and she never attempts to ask what that is or to even question it.
The film does attempt some depth as she is haunted by the ghosts of her past, but they are framed as temptations of evil, the things tempting her to the darkness. She must not break, and it’s a solid little chance at redeeming her fairly flat character. But that’s beaten down for an explosive third act that reaches the heights of ridiculousness with carts proving the most effective means of disposal.
All of the men are awful, and serve no other purpose than to be awful. That’s fine, but when they enjoy it and revel in it, and don’t have anything beyond that, they come across as flimsy and one-note. The women are treated badly, and while the movie does give them a chance to take back their power, it comes too late when the movie’s damage has already been done.
There are no redeeming characters to be found, as everyone is sketchy in their own way. A sign of the times maybe, but not entirely something to celebrate when watching a movie.
The Reckoning also relies on scare jumps too often, and the same exact ones, which, when the film is tiring enough, don’t help lighten the mood.
Neil Marshall can direct, though, that can’t be taken away. The film looks great, one could even say fantastic, and some of the gore effects on the ultraviolent deaths can be pretty fun. But it’s a shame the movie that surrounds it all is rather lifeless and resorts to torture porn at times (while also never giving up a chance to show Kirk’s backside).
It becomes a signal of the script having issues. Written by director Marshall, star Kirk, and Edward Evers-Swindell, character work is nonexistent and pontificating is raised to eleven. No one questions anything that’s happening to them, and it’s hard to say if they just don’t want to or they know there’s no point. If someone possessed character, maybe they could say.
There’s also the issue of its star, Charlotte Kirk. She doesn’t really sell any of the movie outside of the pain, and even then we usually see the beginning and the aftermath. She has the look of a star, no doubt, but it pains me to say that she may only have the look. I am not sold on Grace, and I’m not sold on the performance. It’s a performance in name only, one that doesn’t hold much sway in the way of emotion and pathos. She can look mean, but that’s about it.
At least there’s Sean Pertwee, having a hell of a time as the witch finder Moorcroft. He’s hamming it up to the high heavens, becoming the shining star of the film despite being part of its least interesting sections. It’s a lot of speeches and certainty, but he sells the cruelty and the boundless conviction that comes with the evil of his job.
So by the end, The Reckoning is a tired, done movie. We’ve seen this all before, and with better success. Not even the bloodlust of the third act and magical carts can save it from itself.