The Reckoning Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by RLJE Films
Directed by Neil Marshall
Written by Edward Evers-Swindell, Charlotte Kirk, Neil Marshall
2020, 110 minutes, Not Rated
Released on February 5th, 2021
Charlotte Kirk as Grace Haverstock
Joe Anderson as Joseph
Sean Pertwee as Moorcroft
Stephen Waddington as Pendleton
During a deadly viral epidemic, violent misogynists take time off from spreading the bubonic plague to instead swap vicious lies about an innocent woman. Accused of witchcraft, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) is brutally tortured by her scummy landlord (Stephen Waddington) and the Witchfinder General (Sean Pertwee) – the man who killed her mother years ago.
The latest feature from Dog Soldiers and The Descent director Neil Marshall, this period horror film feels intentionally small and dialed-back, after the big studio misfire that was his Hellboy reboot. It's the story of a woman, accused of witchcraft, and the men who would do her harm. And if anyone knows about strong women and animalistic monster men, it's Neil Marshall.
Or so one would think. The Neil Marshall of The Descent and Dog Soldiers feels so very far away from this cheap, wobbly vanity project. As a showcase for its leading lady, director's muse and co-writer, The Reckoning falls flat on its face. There's nothing wrong with a period piece written in modern English (they can't all be The Witch), but it does make the thing feel more like an episode of Upstart Crow than Witchfinder General. Even worse, Kirk is incapable of pulling the whole thing off – as stiff and wooden as the great big torture device she's strapped to for half of the film.
Kirk can't shoulder all of the blame though. Nobody is putting in particularly good work here; certainly not Stephen Waddington as the villainous landlord, who would feel more at home in an episode of Eastenders than he does here. But then, not even the great Sean Pertwee can make this work, let down by the po-faced script and a ridiculous hat.
Marshall can't even commit fully to the film's brutalities – flinching from the torturer's whips and blades. This, to the extent that Grace walks away from a day's torture looking as fresh as a daisy; without even so much as a limp after having needles inserted into her feet. Nothing about the film rings true, from the writing to the action. Its intentions may be pure, but its observations are superficial, ultimately saying nothing about the centuries of abuse and torture men have heaped upon women while in positions of power. Its pivot to feminist revenge story feels forced and implausible, with Kirk incapable of handling the action beats. It looks solid, and its early scenes are full of some very atmospheric stuff, but its visuals (funky plague masks and a head that gets run over by a wooden cart) are about all it does have going for it.
What happened to Neil Marshall? I loved his earlier movies and defended both Doomsday and Centurion. For the record, I even liked Hellboy. This, I will not defend. This, I do not like. Were this another director's flop, I could handle it; shrug it off. But this is a depressing disappointment. Another stumble in a sad descent, contributing to the wrecking of a once-great director's career.
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