Well, after embarrassing himself with the Hellboy reboot (2019), director Neil Marshall is back to his Horror roots with The Reckoning.
Set in the Middle Ages during the Great Plague (timely!), The Reckoning follows a woman named Grace (Charlotte Kirk) in the days following her losing her husband to the lurgy after he ignores social distancing and goes to ye olde pub.
Grace tries to get by, but is subsequently harassed by her lusty landbaron (expertly played by Steven Waddington) who has a hard-on for both her and the idea of demolishing women’s rights. After she refuses to nosh him off, the landbaron goes full incel and slanders her name, accusing her of being a witch.
This results in Grace being imprisoned by a mob and brutally tortured by a witch hunter played by Sean Pertwee. And when I say brutally tortured, I really do mean it. By the film’s end, there’s no orifice of hers left unexplored, like Pertwee is the fucking Francis Drake of sticking horrible implements into women’s bodies.
Surprisingly, however, the violence is hardly depicted on screen, usually relegated to just the build up and then aftermath. It’s a bit like depicting someone enjoying walking around their home barefoot, the camera zooming in on a wayward Lego brick on the floor, and then the next shot is them writhing around in pain.
The narrative tries to throw a few curve balls: Pertwee’s character being the same witch hunter who killed Grace’s mother, and Grace (possibly) hallucinating the devil, set up interesting angles. But the devil plot has no relevance or pay off, and Grace already has good reason to want to kill the witch hunter, so, narratively, there’s no point in him having killed her mother.
A disappointing film, which I really wanted to like, The Reckoning offers nothing new and fails to work as a sort of throwback to the type of Hammer Horror films which would deal with this subject.
It’s all senseless too. It wallows in the same misogynistic tropes we’ve seen Tim and time again. What’s the message here? Men do horrible things to women? Thanks Internet Explorer.
Tonally, it’s all over too. What starts as a grimy period horror, slowly turns into something more fantastical: with fights against burnt faced warrior priestesses, flashes of the devil, and Kirk running around with a longsword hacking down her foes.
It lacks the humour of Marshall’s Dog Soldiers, or the oppressive terror of The Descent.
Good points are that Kirk is excellent overall in this film (as far as she can be with the material), and the film has a strong sense of place, especially in its brooding opening act with its sweeping landscapes, ominous plague doctors in rotting towns, and gloomy burial mounds.
It’s when the film is confined to the generic looking dungeons that it goes downhill, much like it does for our protagonist. We’ve seen it all before.
Overall, it’s worth a watch – if only because, as a friend pointed out, it continues a certain Sean Pertwee film tradition.