On February 5, 2021, Neil Marshall’s The Reckoning is set for release in theaters and on VOD and digital. The film, co-written with star Charlotte Kirk, has had quite the journey to the screen.
Set in the 1600s against the backdrop of the plague, The Reckoning focuses on Grace (Kirk), a young widow trying to keep control of her land after the death of her husband. When she rebuffs her landlord’s sexual advances, she finds herself accused of witchcraft, placing her on a path that will change her life and the lives of those around her forever.
In advance of the film’s release Marshall and Kirk sat down with iHorror to discuss the film’s evolution from page to screen.
What kind of story would The Reckoning be?
It all began with the seed of a story brought to their attention by fellow scribe Edward Evers-Swindell who proposed a sort of Witchfinder General film with an ending more like Carrie. It did not immediately appeal to Marshall, but it was enough for him to begin researching the long and varied history of witch trials in Europe. It was that research that solidified the idea for both Marshall and Kirk and got the creative ball rolling.
“If we kept closer to the truth then there was a great story there,” Marshall explained, “and taking an amalgamation of various women and the way they were sort of tortured and tried. Charlotte came up with the idea of not actually having any witches, per se.”
“I could tell Neil was kind of into it but he wasn’t,” Kirk continued. “I said, ‘I know you’re not interested in a lot of women flying around on broomsticks and such but what if there are no witches or if we keep it ambiguous, not on the nose.’ That was when it kind of clicked for us.”
It became important for both of them to write a film that, in its own way, honored the thousands of women who were tortured, tried, and convicted of a crime that did not actually exist. This feeling filled both writers with a sense of responsibility to telling the best story possible to honor those who had lived through this harrowing time in history.
In a way, they wanted to say something not only about that time period, but also that resonate with viewers in the 21st Century.
“Of course, when we made the film,” Marshall said, “we had no idea a plague was coming as well. We shot this in 2019 so we had no clue, but that angle has made it seem more relevant as well.”
Armed with their research, the two sat down to write the script, a process that they approached from entirely different directions. Kirk says that the varied approaches ultimately enriched the storytelling however, and also led to her starring in the film, though Marshall pointed out that he knew she would star in The Reckoning in the same way he knew that he would direct it.
“The great thing about writing is that I was looking at it from an actor’s point of view and Neil was looking at it from a director’s point of view,” Kirk explained. “It was just a great collaboration. I’m very left field from Neil while writing.”
“Obviously I have a lot of horror baggage I’m bringing to the piece and Grace was just kind of dipping her toes in horror for the first time,” the director whose previous work includes The Descent and Dog Soldiers among others said. “She brought a lot of ideas that were outside the box. She would take notions of typical horror and turn them on their heads without thinking about it. It was one of those fun writing experiences.”
Finding unexpected parallels between 1665 and 2021…
Still there is a huge gap between writing these harrowing scenes and playing them, and Kirk admits that it could be exhausting operating at an emotional 10 every single day and again, largely due to the responsibility of playing a character like Grace.
She’s a woman who stood up and said no when men tried to take her land and force her into the status quo as the dutiful and submissive woman. It’s a theme as relevant today as in 1665, a fact that is not lost on either of them.
“The villains were both examples of the abuse of power whether it’s the power of wealth or the power of religion, but that’s what they are. They’re bullies,” Marshall said.
“What’s changed in that world? Nothing,” Kirk continued. “Men are still very powerful; they’re in that position. It just is. Not only that but you have the whole religion thing. Someone mentioned the other day, ‘I don’t want to wear the mask because that’s the devil’s work.’ That’s something that someone would have said in 1665! It’s like, where have we come from in society?”
For better or worse, it is those very parallels that make The Reckoning such an emotional and terrifying force during a viewing, and is no little part of why the film has been winning awards at festivals for the last year, including taking home the prize for Best Feature at the 2020 iHorror Film Festival.
You can see The Reckoning tomorrow, February 5, 2021, in select theaters and on VOD and digital! Take a look at the trailer and let us know what you think in the comments below!