The Reckoning (2021) Review
A TIRESOME CHORE TO ENDURE
Neil Marshall has certainly run the “cinematic” gambit; delving into a variety of positions in his filmmaking career. After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at age eleven, Marshall was inspired to become a film director; producing home movies on a Super 8 mm film as well as attending film school at Newcastle Polytechnic (Northumbria University). After being signed on to co-write and editor for the 1995 film Killing Time, Marshall pursued his craft, with the aspiring artist eventually debuting his directorial feature film in Dog Soldiers in 2002. From there, Marshall continued to direct films, including the well-received horror film The Descent in 2007 as well as the sci-fi action Doomsday in 2008, and the period piece action-drama film Centurion in 2015. In 2019, Marshall released the film Hellboy, a superhero film that is based on the Dark Horse Comics character as well as a reboot to the Hellboy film series. Unfortunately, the movie was negatively received and considered a box office bomb that year as well as being considered one of the worst movies of 2019. In addition to film directing, Marshall directed several episodes for TV series, including such popular shows like Lost in Space, Westworld, Black Sails, and Game of Thrones. Now, after the dismal performance of Hellboy, director Neil Marshall and Fourth Culture Films and Bondit Media Capitol present the latest Marshall film with the release of The Reckoning. Is this movie worth a glance or is it generic witch trial narrative that will keep viewers away?
In England 1665, the time of “great plague” is sweeping across the land, conjuring communal fear amongst the masses as death comes for nearly everyone. On a secluded farm in the countryside, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) provides care for her recently newborn baby, trying to cope with the past over the death of her husband, Joseph (Joe Anderson), a loving and caring man who caught the plague while visiting a nearby town, choosing to kill himself by hanging over enduring long-term suffering. Picking up the pieces of her life, Grace is soon hounded by landlord, Squire Pendleton (Steven Waddington), who demands sexual favors to the recent widow if she can’t provide money to pay her debts. When she refuses such an offer, Pendleton accuses Grace of witchcraft, which permits the community fearmongering leadership to imprison her and draws John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee), a feared church official named “The Witch Finder” to Grace’s situation. Faced with grueling days of torture, Grace struggles to endure the suffering, unwilling to break for Moorcroft, who desires a confession from the frightened woman.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I’ll definitely say that director Neil Marshall isn’t a household name of known Hollywood directors, but that doesn’t make him less efficient nor as effective. While I’m not much of a horror fan (as many of you know), I actually did see The Descent and I do have to say that I liked it. It was definitely effective in being a solid horror and I can see why it received a lot of praise. I did want to see Centurion as I looks interesting, but still haven’t had the chance to see it. That being said, I did see Marshall’s Hellboy and I definitely agree with many critics and moviegoers out there. It was disappointing movie that was too confusing, oddly pacing, weak characters, and too much excess over-the-top violence. Some parts were interesting, but I would rather watch (and appreciate more) of director Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and its sequel. I still agree that Marshall’s Hellboy is one of the worst movies of the 2019 year. On the TV front, I have to say that I liked Neil Marshall’s work on the episodes of Game of Thrones (Season’s 2 “Blackwater” episode and season’s 4 “The Watchers on the Wall” episode); both of which are quite the fan-favorite amongst many GoT fans, including myself. Overall, Marshall does have glimpses of miracles where his directorial skills are put to good use, but then there are times when the director’s craft has waned.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about Marshall’s latest film titled The Reckoning, a period piece horror drama. After watching / reviewing 2019’s Hellboy for my blog, I wasn’t really expecting much from Marshall’s future projects. Perhaps that particular movie left a sour taste in my mouth and that the director would really have to come up with something that would really “wow” me to win me back over. Flash forward to last week when I was scanning through the Fandango app; looking to see what new movie was playing at my local theater (that is still open). The only “new movie” that I haven’t seeing was The Reckoning. I never heard of it, so I quickly checked YouTube to see the trailer for the film and I do have to say that it looked interesting. Yes, it’s labelled as a horror movie, which isn’t exactly my preferred “cup of tea”, but I was intrigued by the period piece aspect as well as the witch trial premise (something definitely is ripe for cinematic storytelling of conflict). So, with the afternoon off, I decided to head to the movies to check out The Reckoning. And what did I think of it? Well, it wasn’t exactly good. Despite the film’s attempts in various parts, The Reckoning comes off as sluggish and bland; absorbing more on its “shock and awe” violence rather than culminating in a solid horror flick. I will say that it is better than 2019’s Hellboy, but that’s not saying much.
Perhaps the absolute best thing about this movie is how well it is made….and I’m talking about its technical filmmaking presentation solely. Despite what criticisms I do have about The Reckoning, this particular movie is well-crafted feature within the context of its background presentation. What I am talking about is in how the film “looks and feel” appropriate for the time period the film takes place in (i.e., circa 1665). With the filming taking place in Budapest, Hungary, Marshall and his team utilizes the various locations (both interior and exterior) set-pieces in a very convincing manner. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Ian Bailie (production designs), Vanessa O’Connor and John West (art direction), and Maria Fater (costume designs) for their efforts made in making the movie’s world believable and real. Plus, the cinematography work by Luke Bryant is decent and there are a few shots that look quite slick / impressive. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Christopher Drake, offers up some very bombastic and dramatic effect within his musical composition that does certainly so good and impactful. That being said, the music seems a bit too overpowering at times and feels like it suffocating what’s being presented on scene within Drake’s orchestral score. Basically, the music’s volume should’ve been toned down in the final editing of the feature.
Unfortunately, The Reckoning suffers from a lot critical points of criticism that weigh the feature down and ultimately the viewing experience. Perhaps the most prevalent one that many can agree on is how generic in the film feels. Despite having a very polish and atmospheric look to it, the movie suffers from being a straightforward narrative of witch hunt and the trials that follow. This scenario has played out many times (as mentioned above) with the same segments playing out like in the movie, including a innocent woman is being accused as a witch, the persecution that follows, the torture of the trials, and justifiable religious zealots that act as antagonist. The Reckoning plays all these tropes, which is fine, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table; lacking originality or any type of creativity to the feature’s story and plot points. This then makes the film lack excitement and just simply goes “through the motions” of events by following a formulaic narrative path and becomes even more predictable; rendering all the twists and turns that the movie presents rather moot and non-surprising.
Part of this problem stems from the film’s script, which was penned by Marshall as well as Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell with a story based on “Red Hex) by Evers-Swindell. The script just lacks originality and plays out the same scenario that we’ve seeing played out before from various narratives that surround witch trials. Plus, the film’s story kind of throws a “curveball” into the mix by having its third act change from a period piece / horror feature to more of a revenge period piece / action flick. The change comes sudden and a bit perplexing. Yes, I kind of could see the change coming (I think everyone can), but the script does warrant it and comes off as the two scenarios clashing rather than blending together. Also, the film’s script struggles to find some of its more fantastical elements in clear cut away, with Grace experiencing visions of her dead husband and depictions of the Devil himself. It’s clear what the script wants to convey, but these fantasy elements come off as wonky and its never fully answered as to why Grace is seeing them. Is it her imagination as her mind is falling into madness in trying to rationalize her situation or is it that she is really in fact a witch and conjuring up imagery of her dead husband with her witchcraft as well as her connection to the Dark One’s magic? Neither the script nor the movie fully addresses this situation as to why Grace is experience and is merely there for plot convince as well as horror imagery.
There is also the subject point of the film’s themes of depiction women and men. There no doubt that the movie was created with the idealism of today’s world in mind, despite the hundreds of years gap difference between the two time periods. Naturally, I’m talking about depiction of men and how they treat women and how women are tread in society. Of course, this particular time period where The Reckoning takes place is ripe, with powerful men in position devalue and the mistreatment of women, which can be related to today’s world. Successful movies have recent brought attention to life before, including 2020’s horror remake The Invisible Man. However, while that particular film had a proper balance of story and horror, the script for The Reckoning does little to invigorate the idea and instead rather reinforces blunt villainy depiction of men of power and position (i.e., being evil for the sake of being evil); missing an opportunity to examine such villainy or even for female empowerment. Yes, there is kind of chance for Grace to prove herself during the film’s third act, but it comes off as a bit “too little, too late” and feels almost shoehorned in. This is also prevalent in a side story with one of Grace’s friends, which tries to mirror slightly Grace’s situation, but never fully realizes and comes across a forgettable side story.
Another problem with the movie is in Marshall’s directing, which (again) offers up a very straightforward feature that’s been done many times over. Marshall makes the movie tread a lot of familiar territory and does very little to bring anything particular new, especially in terms of how it brings it altogether and in his overall execution. Nothing really stands out from what I expected the film to be and The Reckoning just simply lacks the imaginative originality the feature really needs. This is also further examined when Marshall showcases the film’s horror-like violence, which is mostly set during the movie’s second act portion. Much like his remake of Hellboy, Marshall goes hard in for the gore and violence, with the movie showcasing the violence that main character Grace is subjected to and endures, including public flailing, racking her body, needle puncturing, and vaginal abrasion. It supposes come off with the “shock and awe” factor to the feature, but it comes off as a blunt and redundant, with majority of the film’s second act depicting these imageries (as well as some of the fantasy elements of Grace’s visions) over and over again. This makes this segment in the film rather boring and sluggish, especially with Marshall’s pacing causing problems. The movie could’ve been easily reduced a good fifteen or twenty minutes for a tighter presentation rather than just excessively showing acts of violence to Grace. Plus, the violence in these scenes isn’t exactly new or pushes the envelope, with Marshall cutting away before those moments take place. So, if you are looking for some uber gory cartoon style violence like in Hellboy, you’ll won’t find it here.
Lastly, The Reckoning has some odd decision making in his beautification of his its lead character of Grace Haverstock. Yes, I will definitely admit that actress Charlotte Kirk, who plays the role, is quite beautiful and there is nothing wrong with that. However, she looks like this throughout the entire film, despite the feature being set in “the great plague” time period of England (mid to late 1600s) as well as being tortured throughout the movie. While most of the male characters are dirty and have grimy look about them, Grace looks pretty the entire time, with lipstick, facial make-up, and eye-liner almost all on her, despite the violent horrors that befall her. Thus, this actually lacks the film’s authenticity setting and comes across as wonky and distracting. Who knows…maybe the character is a witch?
The cast in The Reckoning is okay and, while most give decent acting performances in the movie, the character themselves are a bit hammy and borderline the stereotypical cliches caricatures that are customary to witch trials movies (i.e., accused, the accuser, the villainy religious zealot, etc.). That being said, who actually fares the worst in the movie is the film’s main lead role of Grace Haverstock, who is played by actress Charlotte Kirk. Known for her roles in Vice, Ocean’s Eight, and The Depths, Kirk is a supporting player in her past work; offering up smaller parts to the feature, with The Reckoning acting has more of a chance to showcase her acting chops in the lead role. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work correctly. For better or worse, Kirk lacks the nuances and experience for a leading character role and The Reckoning suffers from having a more seasoned actress in the role of Grace. Some parts she really does shine through and I certainly do commend her for those part, but those segments are few and far between, with Kirk just giving off a rather ridged performance. She’s particularly strong in the lead role and one can see why while viewing the movie and ends up conveying a rather unconvincing portrayal of Grace. Plus, it doesn’t help that the script does little to give the character of Grace anything new or creative, with the character being done many times over in otherwise better projects.
Furthermore, it also doesn’t help that the fact that Kirk is currently dating Marshall (currently his fiancé of this review) and you can obviously see that this favoritism between director and actress is clearly visible in the movie. It’s ideal for an acting talent to be picked for a role that they’re clearly designed for (showcasing their acting abilities and / or the subject matter) and not have a movie built around the talent. The latter is Charlotte Kirk and it definitely feels that way in The Reckoning; project a very stiff and uninteresting lead character role that’s boring, bland, and stereotypical. Basically, The Reckoning is a vanity project for Marshall in trying to maneuver Kirk into the center spotlight and it doesn’t work.
As a side-note, the character of Joseph Haverstock, Grace’s recently deceased husband and who is played by Joe Anderson (The Ruins and Across the Universe), is kind of a wonky character. Anderson is good in the role, but the character is, more or less, a ghost-like figure for majority of the feature, with only Grace seeing him and offering cryptic messages.
Looking beyond Kirk’s dismal performance, actor Sean Pertwee strikes up a stirring performance in the role John Moorcroft, the self-proclaimed “Witch Finder” who examines Grace Haverstock on if she is or isn’t a true witch. Known for his roles in Event Horizon, Gotham, and Dog Soldiers, Pertwee definitely sinks his teeth into this particular role; presenting Moorcroft as a self-righteous religious man, who is justifiable in his role “judge, jury, and execution” persona. Perhaps more memorable is the fact of Pertwee’s raspy sounding voice, who nails the villainy in his character beautifully. The flip side, however, is that Moorcroft is pretty much the straight forward antagonist. Still, looking beyond that, Pertwee is perhaps the best actor / character in the entire film and having a lasting impression on viewers. Additionally, actor Steve Waddington (The Last of the Mohicans and Sleepy Hollow) acts as the secondary antagonist in The Reckoning as the Squire Pendleton, a man who seeks to claim Grace’s body for his own. Sadly, however, Waddington, despite being a good actor, just comes off as weak baddie that (again) feels conventional and bland right from the get-go; feeling shoehorned into the movie as a plot narrative mechanic to further the story as well as the whole dated “men of power” angle for the feature.
Everyone else, including actress Suzanne Magowan (Armchair Detectives and Monster) as Ursula, actress Emma Campbell-Jones (Doctors and Dates) as Jane Hawthorne, actor Mark Ryan (Transformers: Age of Extinction and Black Sails) as Peck, actor Bill Fellows (Doctors and Downton Abbey) as Sutter, actor Oliver Trevena (The Rising Hawk and The Angel) as Crowley, actor Leon Ockenden (Mr. Selfridge and Coronation Street) as Morton, and actress Indianna Ryan (The A-List) as Astrid, round out the minor characters in the movie. While there acting is fine across the board, these characters are more plot / scene devices rather than fleshed out characters; serviceable to the scene in the movie rather than making themselves interesting. I kind of expected that, so it didn’t bother me as much.
Grace Haverstock is accused on being a witch and must endure torture and pain from her accusers in the movie The Reckoning. Director Neil Marshall’s latest film takes the more traditional route of horror; focusing on a period piece witch trial narrative of sinful acts and revenge. Unfortunately, despite having a good technical presentation in its setting and nuances, the movie suffers from being dated and just monotonous from onset to conclusion, especially due to Marshall’s direction, a formulaic narrative, predictable plot points, redundant violence, sluggish pacing, and a unconvincing lead. Personally, this movie was a groaner and disappointing. It had its moments and I love the atmospheric nature of the film, yet it all feels boring, conventional, and tonal confusing. As I said, it’s not as bad as 2019’s Hellboy, but (again) that’s not saying much between the two films. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a definite “skip it”. Even though I know probably horror fans might want to check this feature out, I would advise against it and just watch something else (you’ll thank me for it). Overall, The Reckoning is a dismal feature feels dated and generic from the get-go; rendering the viewing experience to being a tiresome chore to endure through. Repent your sins and stay away from this movie!
2.2 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: February 5th, 2021
Reviewed On: February 12th, 2021
The Reckoning is 110 minutes long and is not rated, but i would say it is rated R for violence or elements of supernatural horror