Hold on to your pitchforks as Marshall’s ‘The Reckoning’ takes us on a 17th Century tour of ye olde misogyny in a solid enough, yet somewhat thematically confused film centred around witch trials.
Following her husband’s death, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) finds herself accused of being a witch after seeing off the advances of her horny landlord. Once accused it appears the law only has one verdict for such a crime: guilty. As if things couldn’t get any worse for Grace, her daughter taken from her, then imprisoned into a plague-ridden dungeon, Grace must endure one final test of resolve, she must face-up against England’s most ruthless witch-hunter, Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) as he seeks a confession from her to justify an execution.
The film begins solidly enough with both mood and atmosphere being pitched well from the start. Plague ridden England is portrayed as suitably miserable place, and despite the set-built locations looking perhaps as little as such, the overall look and feel for the film’s context does well to establish some atmosphere in a story which begins dark, and you suspect isn’t going to get any more optimistic as the runtime progresses.
First off, the cinematography looks really great, and after a rather grim montage-esk opener, it’s clear that this film is going to follow true to Marshall’s historic record of producing some strong violence to back up a dark and somewhat hopeless plight.
And dark and hopeless is exactly what this film is, even before Judge Moorcroft turns up.
Grace’s character was established well as an independently minded, yet dutiful young woman plunged into a system within which she clearly had little value beyond what could be exploited from her. Her situation is hopeless, and as miserable as it was to watch her life quickly spiralling downwards at the mere whims of ignorance men, I thought the film had cleverly chosen an appropriate historic backdrop through which to deliver its topical feminist message.
With the film starting out pretty grim I strapped in, expecting worse to come, but sadly as the film moved forward that message really lost its way, its grounded plot becoming convoluted in tonal shifts with the inclusion of trite fantasy elements and cheesy dialogue spats, with Grace’s character in particularly devolving from a victim to represent all those persecuted, to a more cliché Hollywood protagonist by the films end.
Don’t get me wrong here, the film maintains its cinematic quality and whilst the film’s message is lost, the film does predictably escalate in terms of its violence. As you might expect, once the witch-finder general turns up everything goes up a gear. Pertwee is a sure-fire hit in most things he’s in, and here, whilst his character is somewhat stifled by the limited writing, his screen-presence brings that something needed to really get the inquisition started. The violence is moderate overall, yet its insinuation strong. I find in Marshall’s movies are often reserved in this way, and that’s a compliment, with a more sparing use of shown violence allows what’s shown to have more of an impact. Here is no different. Considering the context of the trial how much conceivable injury could Grace be expected to endure from the perspective of showing gore? So therefore, when the gore comes it needs to hit its mark; after all, with the constant reminder of how the Witch-finder’s work comes with “guaranteed confessions”, he better put on a show! (search ‘Pear of Anguish’ – ouch)
There’s some decent scenes throughout of throat rips, sword wounds and some decent fire effects, and whilst this isn’t the goriest film you will watch this year, ‘The Reckoning’ has an edge.
This in turn presents my biggest reservation with the film: indeed, the only character who doesn’t seem affected by this ‘edge’ is our victim Grace, whose make-up and hair never seem to miss a beat, no matter her torment. In fact, thinking back, as the film goes on, she seems only to get stronger – struggling to lift a sword in the opening scene, to going full terminator by the end.
Perhaps it was all that fornicating with the actual devil? (as shown in some moody, yet out of place scenes which really seem to muddy up the film’s broader context…)
Overall, as an opportunity to present a hard-hitting topical horror movie, this film had the ingredients in its corner needed to hit a home run. However, the inclusion of some sporadic supernatural scenes and a conclusion which escalated towards the cliché over poignant meant that the film overall should be reserved for those looking towards some period-set entertainment, and from that perspective its plenty watchable. Not quite up to the lofty standards set by either ‘Dog Soldiers’ or ‘The Decent’, but its good to see Marshall back in the genre camp regardless.