The Reckoning 2020 review

Neil Marshall’s ‘The Reckoning’ Shouts for Justice That’s Still Yet to Come

After production company logos and title cards describing the state of plague-stricken 1665 England, The Reckoning devotes nearly 10 full minutes to two sequences. One follows the last days of tenant Joseph (Joe Anderson), who contracts the sickness while on a trip to sell his grain in London. Upon learning of his infection, Joseph chooses to hang himself, rather than risk spreading the disease to his wife and daughter. This story comes intercut into a lengthy scene involving Joseph’s wife Grace (Charlotte Kirk) discovering the body, cutting it down, and burying it in a grave outside her house.

Every element of the film works to underscore Grace’s suffering. Mud and slime slide through her hands as she claws away at the dirt. We feel every grunt she makes as she swings a sword at her husband’s noose, hoping the body will finally fall. Cinematographer Luke Bryant smears the scene with grey tones, accentuated by a syrupy score from Christopher Drake oozing pathos into every possible aspect.

If that strikes you as “too much,” then you might as well give up on The Reckoning right away, because it never grows more subtle.

To be clear, that’s a good thing. Director Neil Marshall, who broke out with his audacious horror films Dog Soldiers and The Descent, has never been known for his light touch. But since the tepid release of 2008’s Doomsday, many have considered this a liability. To his credit, Marshall has stayed the course, growing increasingly operatic in his direction, whether it be the 2010 historical action film Centurion or his work on television series Game of Thrones and Hannibal. Marshall knows how to drive stories towards delusion insanity, and while they don’t always work (as in his Hellboy reboot), his movies always make an impression.

He puts all those skills to good use in The Reckoning, which takes a relatively small-scale story about an innocent woman condemned for witchcraft in 17th century England and gives it spiritual stakes. Grace’s test of endurance against Judge Moorecroft (a deliciously sinister Sean Pertwee) becomes a transcendental struggle, as the Witchfinder fights to prove the woman’s guilt by attacking her body. The torture scenes derive most of their power through suggestion, as Marshall often cuts away from the real gory stuff. The pain leads to even more disturbing phantasms, as Grace receives encouragement and/or taunts from Joseph’s ghost and the devil himself.

None of this is understated, but it’s hard to imagine a discreet version of this story. As producer and co-writer (along with Marshall and Edward Evers-Swindell), Kirk clearly has a vested interest in telling this tale. But as an actor, she lacks the presence to make the audience believe her emotions. While she cuts an impressive figure while posing, especially when aided by the striking lighting and dramatic score, but her line readings thud to the ground. At no point does the audience believe that she is a human experiencing horrific punishment.

But then again, Marshall isn’t going for realistic with The Reckoning. The film shouts its themes at every turn and bathes them in a gothic score that makes even the dullest line hit with maximum impact. The film’s more ridiculous aspects, from Moorecroft’s victim-turned-ninja-sidekick Ursula (Suzanne Magowan) to a final act overstuffed with reversals and victories, all feel like a piece of its heightened worldview.

The movie does struggle to maintain this tone for its full 110-minute runtime, especially when that tone is in service of a single point. But given the prevalence of misogyny today, just as strong as it was 600 years ago, it’s clear that art must continue to yell, loud and long.

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