The Reckoning is the latest film from writer/director Neil Marshall, who shot to fame with his first feature length film, Dog Soldiers, in 2002 and has been a staple of British horror ever since, having gone on to work on big name projects like Hellboy, Lost In Space, and Game of Thrones.
The Reckoning sees Marshall returning to his horror roots after his work on the recent Hellboy remake, and it definitely feels like this is the place where he’s at his strongest. The story, set during the Great Plague of 1665, follows Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk), a woman whose husband takes his own life after contracting the plague so as to not infect his wife and baby daughter.
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Unfortunately, this puts Grace in conflict with Squire Pendleton (Steven Waddington), who tries to exert his position as the landowner to force Grace into his bed. When Grace refuses Pendleton he begins to lay the seeds of doubt about her in the local population, and Grace is quickly accused of witchcraft. This brings the Witchfinder John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) to town, and pits him against Grace in a battle of wills.
Those expecting overt horror from The Reckoning might be in for a bit of a surprise, as it’s not an exploration of historical supernatural and magic like The Witch or Hagazussa. Despite having veteran suit actor Ian Whyte in the cast as Lucifer, the film steers pretty clear of the supernatural and witchcraft, with the main ‘horror’ elements being in Grace’s dreams and hallucinations as torture and sleep deprivation begin to play with her mind.
What the film is really about, however, is the evil that men do. It doesn’t shy away from the level of hate that women of this time and place had to live with, and shows how abused they were. It’s about the horror of being in a situation where the fervent belief of a man gave him the right to torture innocent women, and how helpless those victims were to do anything about it.
The film focuses on Grace, and the amount of strength and belief in herself that helps her to overcome the brutal things she’s going through. Whilst this does mean that there is a sense of female power at times, especially when those who have been abusing the women in their lives finally get what’s coming to them, it sometimes feels a little off, mainly due to how well Grace is able to hold herself together after extreme torture. At times she’s able to run around and fight back, even after we’ve just seen her experience some pretty brutal and debilitating torture.
Despite these flaws, the film manages to be entertaining for a number of reasons. The level of discomfort you feel as Grace is trapped in this hopeless situation, of watching her being tortured over and over is pretty effective. It’s not in-your-face horror, it doesn’t rely on jump scares, but it builds a constant sense of dread that becomes almost oppressive. This also benefits from the knowledge that the things we see here happened to real people, innocent women who were tortured and killed simply for being different. It makes it a pretty hard film to watch at times, though this does go a long way towards the feeling of fun when Grace finally starts to fight back and get her revenge (I found myself cheering a few times as her torturers got their comeuppance).
The film looks very good too, and you can see why Marshall was picked to direct some key episodes of Game of Thrones. Marshall is able to make the setting feel well lived in, and whilst the film doesn’t have a massive budget the sets and the costumes have a look and feel to them that makes them seem authentic.
The best part though, has to be Sean Pertwee, someone who’s been in a number of Marshall’s films. Pertwee brings the character of Moorcroft to life, and takes what could have been a one-dimensional character and gives him a lot of depth. This religious fanatic who tortures and kills women is utterly disgusting, and you hate him, but Pertwee also makes him feel kind and earnest in some moments. You believe him when he’s telling Grace he’ll grant her mercy if she confesses. You doubt he gets any gratification from what he does when he’s so believable saying it brings him no pleasure to torture people. He makes Moorcroft into a character I wanted to see more of; which was something I wasn’t expecting.
Thanks to an interesting script, some great visual moments, and absolutely brilliant acting from the principal cast, The Reckoning is a film that, whilst it might not reach the levels of love that Marshall’s other works do, is one that is definitely worth watching.
The Reckoning is out on Digital Platforms on 16th April from Shudder and Vertigo Releasing.