REVIEW: The Reckoning (2020)

dir. Neil Marshall.

It’s 1665: the Year of the Great Plague. After losing her husband to the pestilence single-mother Grace (Charlotte Kirk) rebuffs the lecherous advances of her landlord, finding herself accused of the dark arts and falling into the hands of Sean Pertwee’s sadistic witchfinder – a man who also burnt her mother at the stake.

On paper the latest offering from Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers; The Descent) should work: as well as riding the rip-tide of horror hit The Witch the setup has all the ingredients of a #MeToo parable, contextualised by the historical atrocities perpetrated against women in Europe and North America.

The film’s problems, however, are manifold. Kirk (who takes a co-writer credit here and is the real-life partner of Marshall) is sadly wooden, failing to give Grace the gravitas or magnetism needed. What’s more is that much around her is also flat, cycling though set-pieces and story beats which should be thrilling but frequently come up short, resembling Monty Python and the Holy Grail more than any sense of veracity.

The exception is Pertwee who – as ever – is dementedly watchable, bringing a corrupt charisma to every scene he’s in. Comparisons with Vincent Price’s Witchfinder General are unavoidable, but although he plays the best he can with a limited hand he’s unable to transcend the sub-par surroundings that hold him fast.

And then there’s the occult stuff: as Grace endures increasingly brutal tortures to elicit a confession her mind appears to strain and she experiences (imagines?) visitations from her dead husband and mother, as well as a horny demon who – looking like a cross between Wishmaster and Tim Curry from Legend – ravishes her. This sets the stage for an interesting tension (what if Grace really is in league with the devil?) but the way it’s resolved is unsatisfactory, the sex scenes playing like unpleasant soft-core cosplay that’s particularly misjudged given the film’s apparent feminist aspirations.

Overall The Reckoning is a resounding disappointment: the seed of a good story never taking root, hampered by hammy performances and unintentionally comedic beats. Marshall is responsible for some genuine Brit-horror classics, but though this sets its sights on meaningful metaphor and a rousing rallying cry it’s never more than perfunctory and miscalculated.

Tim Coleman

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