The Great Plague, demons, and witches – when I first heard about the thematic elements of Neil Marshall’s latest film, THE RECKONING, I was ALL IN.
It sounds promising enough: Grace Haverstock (played by Charlotte Kirk, who also co-wrote the movie with Marshall) lives in an idyllic country cottage with her husband, Joseph, and their newborn daughter. Unfortunately, Joseph (Joe Anderson) mistakenly drinks some ale from someone infected by the Plague, and immediately becomes sick. Not wanting to suffer through a horrible death he commits suicide, leaving Grace to fend for herself.
But since this is set in a time and place where women literally couldn’t do anything except be wives, Grace is in a jam with no money to pay their creepy landlord — who demands she pay with her body, instead. After she fights back, the landlord declares she’s a witch and sends a gang of masked men to capture her so he can throw her in prison where she awaits a trial by witchfinder John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee).
Moorcroft shows up in full villain garb practically twirling his mustache, along with his evil female bodyguard/fangirl Ursula: a woman accused of being a witch who was burned at the stake, but saved at the last minute by Moorcroft when a wind blew out the fire and she confessed — so she’s now his loyal companion. BTW, Ursula’s one and only personality trait is that she’s got gnarly burn scars all over her face and body.
Let me give you a minute to read that again.
ANYWAY. The next two-thirds of the movie alternates between Grace being tortured and Grace hallucinating images of having sex with both her dead husband and the acual (very prominently horned) devil. None of which elicited any reaction from me except, “I guess those practical F/X are pretty sweet.”
The witchfinder breaks out every heinous torture device you’ve seen in these films before — including the Pear of Anguish, an instrument designed to stretch and break women internally. While that’s a big eeeeeeesssssh moment for sure and Kirk’s screams match what you would expect, she’s still standing afterward and seems to bounce back pretty quickly given the amount of blood that flows down the front of her gown.
The quick recovery might be explainable if Grace were an actual witch, but sadly, that’s not what this story is about. Grace is just a God-fearing woman who likes to make herbal remedies and wear half-laced gowns and oversized hats with feathers, and her visions of the devil are only fever-dreams caused by lack of sleep, no food, and you know, all the torture.
By the time she gets helped out of her cell by the most unnecessary side character/savior of all time and finally got to her Revengenda I had pretty much lost all interest in anything that was happening because how? And why? And nope. It’s pretty anticlimactic, and really the only satisfying scene in this whole movie involves Grace’s one and only friend getting an accidental one-up on her abusive husband — which was also the most splattery death in the whole film.
At the start this reminded me a lot of some of the more Hammer-influenced Full Moon Features films from the 90s, like THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1991), but as it went along, it didn’t deliver the same hilarious thrills. While THE RECKONING was intended to be a film about female empowerment and revenge, it’s honestly just a big ole’ mess that falls flat.