by Hope Madden
It’s been nearly 20 years since Neil Marshall first caught our attention with his remarkable military/lycanthropic standoff, Dog Soldiers. Just three years later, the writer/director offered his genre masterpiece, The Descent, and suddenly anticipation was high for a filmmaker who knew how to scare us.
A couple of disappointments later and the Englishman began to rebuild his reputation doing one-off TV episodes and horror shorts until possibly sinking his career forever in 2019 with the Big Box Office Bomb that was Hellboy.
The Reckoning won’t help things.
Marshall’s latest, co-written with Edward Evers-Swindell (Dark Signal) and star Charlotte Kirk, takes us back to the Dark Ages. The black plague is wiping out the English countryside, but witch hunters are a close second in terms of death toll.
Striking images are everywhere in this film—a home burning, a horse rearing, misty moors and the like. But the first sight that will really make you scratch your head is that of Grace (Kirk), humble-but-loving wife in full, never-to-be-flawed makeup. It’s so jarring given the plague-ridden scenes surrounding her that you cannot help but notice it.
And for the next hour 50 (at least 30 minutes longer than necessary), Kirk poses. She stands firm. She yearns. She dotes. She hesitates. She resolves. Yes, I believe that runs the full gamut of Kirk’s poses.
It doesn’t help matters that The Reckoning brings so little new to the historical witch torture genre. Grace’s ordeals, once her lascivious landlord brings her up on charges of witchcraft for spurning him, lead to increasingly gratuitous and sexualized torture.
And still, that nude lip liner never smudges.
Around Kirk’s showy performance is a wide variety of talent. Sean Pertwee and Steven Waddington offer fine, villainous turns, for instance.
The writing is not a real strength, as most of the plotting and dialog serve only to create new opportunities to pose. It’s hard to call The Reckoning a wasted opportunity because, aside from some solid framing and cinematography, there’s nothing here to even exploit. It’s a superficial ripoff of a worn out genre, built entirely around a laughable performance.