The Reckoning, 2020.
Directed by Neil Marshall.
Starring Charlotte Kirk, Joe Anderson, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington, Rick Warden, Mark Ryan, Bill Fellows, Suzanne Magowan, Leon Ockenden, Sarah Lambie, Emma Campbell-Jones, and Ian Whyte.
Evelyn, a young widow haunted by the recent suicide of her husband Joseph, is falsely accused of being a witch by her Landlord after she rejects his advances.
Director Neil Marshall has a history of making movies that thrive on darkened blood, add demonic features to the human body, and share a pallid, grainy aesthetic. He likes to get the adrenaline going, but in recent years has tunneled in to blunt, flagrant bombast that tries to disguise that the writing isn’t as well-executed as some of the imagery is striking. The Reckoning is an attempt to reel in the ticks and return to a more grounded sensibility. However, old habits die hard.
In the film, the Great Plague has rotted the bodies and minds of people throughout England. As humans tend to do in periods of strife, the “religious” English find other people to blame; this case involves pointing fingers in persecution of women who stand out, are less fortunate, or are vulnerable, decrying them as witches that are cursing their country and neighbors. Frontier woman Grace (played by Charlotte Kirk) loses her husband after he goes in to town, contracts the Plague, and kills himself to protect her and their infant child. Soon after, Grace’s landlord threatens and tries to rape her, she fights back, and the town gets to buzzing about how she is a witch that sent her husband to Hell.
Grace’s immediate capture by officers is guaranteed. When the accused is brought forward, the presentation of flawed evidence is the only prosecution needed to convict a woman of witchcraft. Most of The Reckoning takes place following Grace’s conviction, when specialized religious officials try by means of torture to get Grace to confess before they execute her.
In the opening scenes, The Reckoning establishes Grace as not simply a victim, but a strong, independent, skilled, and ultimately resilient woman trying to free herself from the constraints and prejudices of her time. This is only a problem because we don’t get to know much about her past (aside from the fact that when Grace was a child her mother was killed in front of her) and how such an anomaly for this period of history came to be. The person Grace is doesn’t fit the environment she has been written into; nowadays, women sticking up for themselves and having rights isn’t a groundbreaking notion, but back in the 1600s, for most people, it would be radical and alien.
Neil Marshall hasn’t entirely crafted this movie for today’s feminist movements. In fact, The Reckoning is positing its star, Charlotte Kirk, as a victim of the system around her; she has come under scrutiny these past few years due to her career blossoming after having intimate relations with a couple of Hollywood moguls. Kirk and Marshall are currently engaged, and the film was cowritten between the two of them and Edward Evers-Swindell after Marshall likened the allegations against his fiancée to a “witch hunt.” The character Grace struggles with the issues of her times, but her attitude and actions come from the woman portraying her.
Putting the motivation and personal drama behind The Reckoning aside, there is genuine conflict in the story, and Ms. Kirk’s energy comes through, even though as an actress she is not very good at expressing emotion. If a viewer didn’t know of her relationship with the director, you couldn’t fault them for thinking that Charlotte was chosen for the movie because someone involved in the making of it was turned on by her body and wanted to graphically show her more than once, with no parts of her body left covered, having sex with her character’s deceased husband, who sometimes turns out to be the Devil (such a reading of the material would say that the film gives in to misogynistic inclinations by treating Grace as much of an object as the other characters in the story do, with Kirk’s lack of emotive capabilities either saying Grace is cold and unable of true human expression, or as traumatized by the world around her to such a degree that she has to detach herself in order to survive).
Other actors (particularly Sean Pertwee as Judge Moorcroft) have the opposite problem, hamming the material up enough that The Reckoning‘s harsh muchness doesn’t end with the serious plot, modern-day comparisons, and partly unhinged filmmaking and story/tonal structure choices that make things uneven; the overacting of sparse lines from dangerous, brazenly ignorant characters pushes things out of the vicinity of the realm of realism, further illuminated by Kirk’s contrast in approach and direction.
All things considered, The Reckoning ends with an exciting, rousing finale that could sway less critical viewers more in the film’s favor. This is a messy product from a once-promising director, but a possible guilty pleasure to look in to whenever one is in the mood for that sort of thing in the future. Or put another way: If you need a break from neat and tidy genre filmmaking and don’t mind noise, phlegm, and underdeveloped, ham-fisted social issue soup…well, nothing’s stopping ya.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★