A horror outing that’s more chore than chilling
THE RECKONING (2021)
After being burned by the travesty that was his 2019 take on Hellboy, my enthusiasm for a new Neil Marshall horror movie considerably dimmed. The wild Dog Soldiers and the classic scarer that is The Descent proves he’s a force within the genre, and perhaps too much studio interference or an overwhelming sense of the mainstream played into why Hellboy stumbled as much as it did. So with The Reckoning I was hoping it would be a return to form, a chance to make good on the potential we know is there. Oh, how I hoped!
The Reckoning only had been playing for a matter of minutes when I was already noticing how much of a chore this movie was. Witch trials are still quite a fascinating topic, and you can imagine that premise with what Marshall has delivered with The Descent or his contributions to Game of Thrones could result in something worthy. Instead he seems all too content to coax by on the familiar, not adding anything new to the story - despite this being co-written by his lead actress (and real-life partner) Charlotte Kirk, who could’ve brought a unique feminine sensibility and point of view to the narrative but to no avail. There’s no immersion and no subtlety to proceedings, with Marshall seemingly more interested in framing Kirk as glamorously as possible, despite her character going through the atrocities of torture. It’s a massively disappointing effort from a director we know is capable.
Given the controversy surrounding Kirk and the supposed relationships she formed in her quest to become a star, one can’t help but see parallels between her own trajectory (however true it may or may not be) and the film’s narrative. The film is set around the Great Plague as it spreads across England in 1655. This backdrop sets the atmosphere for the widowed Grace (Kirk) who is framed as a witch when she turns down the sexual favours of her landlord after failing to pay her debts. A witch trial from her own point of view could’ve really been something investing, especially framed as something of a courtroom drama, but as good as the plot outline is, Marshall and Kirk fail to embellish.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Given that this is very much Kirk’s film, it’s even more baffling that she’s as wooden and as uninteresting as she is. As The Reckoning’s perennial victim she’s more a conceptual representation of the suffering woman rather than a full realised character. The film seems more intent on making her appear as aesthetically pleasing as possible - despite, you know, being tortured for days on end - over conveying her as the casualty of violence that she ultimately is.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The film, at times, has the right look for the time period, but you can’t help but think it’s all a little “Game of Thrones hand-me-downs” in appearance. Some of the period costumes don’t feel in tune with the 17th century time frame, and the makeup for Kirk, as mentioned before, wants to enhance her beauty rather than act as an additive to the atrocities she faces. On that end, the blood and violent effects are suitable and entirely unpleasant at times, but it’s a shame they aren’t working in unison with a more coherent film
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Credit where it’s due, The Reckoning sounds great. There’s an organ-heavy score which elevates the camp sensibility that Marshall really should’ve embraced. The torturous moments are all heard with an uncomfortable pitch that adds the only slight realism the film goes for, but again these aren’t in harmony with the Kirk sheen that is placed over the majority of these scenes.
Given how masterful The Descent is, Marshall’s floundering here is so disappointing as we know his capabilities. This feels far removed from the studio mentality that potentially interfered with Hellboy, so he ultimately only has himself to blame for The Reckoning’s underwhelming outcome. Placing a little bit too much faith in Kirk also has tainted this could’ve-been epic horror outing that’s more chore than chilling.