There have always been times of great conflict in human history. While we often wish hardship would bring out the best in people, sadly and more often than not, the opposite has proven true. Neil Marshall’s The Reckoning, focuses on just one of these critical times.
It’s the 1600’s and The Great Plague sweeps the countryside, killing thousands. The prevailing blame falls on witches and deviltry, leading to thousands more innocent women being killed by men in the name of salvation that never comes. Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk, Ocean’s 8) is a peasant who only yearns for a simple life but is denied when her husband dies of the plague and she finds herself in the sights of her corrupt and sleazy landlord. To seize her and the land, Grace is accused of witchcraft and held by Judge John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee, Event Horizon) a vicious and fanatical Witchfinder General. The very same who executed Grace’s mother as a child. Now, Grace must survive several days of torment and try to find a way to escape, rescue her child, and get her revenge.
The Reckoning is a fascinating genre blending, and of genres you can tell that director/co-writer Neil Marshall is passionate about. A Dark Ages revenge story with themes of misogyny and religious persecution. For the most part, this mix works. Creating a unique situation and giving more than enough fuel for Grace to seek revenge for. Some of the Satanic elements unfortunately feel a bit out of place and at times feel like reduced scares. For example, Grace’s recurring nightmares of devils didn’t really have much of a pay-off in the grand scheme of the story. The setting also evocative of Marshall’s more famous directing work on Game of Thrones in terms of set design and treacherous characters. Though the plot is mostly reduced to Grace’s home, the village, and the local castle, it never feels out of place.
On Grace Haverstock, she is a well written protagonist and Charlotte Kirk gives a phenomenal performance. Definitely owed in part to the fact that she co-wrote the script with Marshall and Edward Evers-Swindell. She puts her all into the role, particularly during the scenes of brutal torture and her resistance against her captors. Conversely, Sean Pertwee gives an excellent performance as the devious Judge Moorcroft. Displaying a smug sense of satisfaction oppressing those he deem to be of sin while at the same time happy to profit off their misfortune. Perhaps influenced in some part by Vincent Price’s infamous role as the titular Witchfinder General. Most of the cast do well in their roles, though some may see the boorish and harassing mob in the background as a little too hammy.
While the set-up and execution in The Reckoning works for the most part, it was a bit clunky at times and slow to fill out its nearly two hour run-time. Some of the sub-plots such as Grace’s friend in an abusive relationship and the plight of the other accused witches feeling tacked on or overexposed. The story has some rough edges, but when it remains focused on Grace it remains enthralling. And if you were hooked by the period revenge plot and potential for gore, Marshall delivers with gusto. Swordfights, giant blunderbuss guns, beaked plague doctors, and fire, so much fire! When the action hits, it’s often with some well deserved catharsis.
Despite its flaws, if you’re in the market for some medieval intensity and comeuppance, The Reckoning maybe just the thing you’ve been praying for.
RLJE Films and Shudder will release the action / horror THE RECKONING In Theaters, On Demand and Digital February 5, 2021.