At the start of his career, Neil Marshall immediately turned heads with his first two feature length movies. His werewolf-meets-soldiers thriller, Dog Soldiers, is amongst the best werewolf movies ever made. And Marshall’s sophomore effort, The Descent, is one of the best horror movies of this century. Even Marshall’s period piece, Centurion, was an underappreciated gem. But his Max Max-virus-cannibal mashup, Doomsday was just half a good movie. Though his Hellboy remake deserved a better fate, it crashed and burned with audiences. After working on several television shows, Marshall is back with his latest feature, a middle ages tale of witch-hunts, The Reckoning.
When she loses her husband to the plague, Grace Haverstock is left to tend the family farm alone with her infant child. But as the plague spreads and fears mount, Grace’s rejection of her landlord’s advances leads to a false claim of witchcraft. Soon thereafter, Grace finds herself imprisoned and facing a merciless inquisition from the man who sentenced her own mother to burn at the stake.
The Reckoning a Surprisingly Heartless Horror Thriller
Much like his earlier effort, Doomsday, The Reckoning feels like Marshall assembled the story from a playlist of his favourite movies. On one hand, there’s bits of Ken Russell’s The Devils and Vincent Price classic Witchfinder General. Marshall also throws supernatural elements into the mix. While imprisoned is imprisoned, The Reckoning ratchets up its horror elements. Nightmarish imagery, including the Devil himself, haunt Grace in her dark cell. But not satisfied to stop there, Marshall shifts things again into more contemporary action fare in the climax.
...The Reckoning’s genre shifts often feel jarring.
On their own, each of these genre elements mostly work. Things even start off quite promisingly. If The Reckoning has a smaller budget, Marshall’s tragic opening montage never betrays it. Some of the horror imagery clicks, and Marshall nails a few effective jump scares. What’s missing is tonal consistency. In addition to to gradually discarding its early atmosphere, The Reckoning’s genre shifts often feel jarring. By the movie’s conclusion, nothing feels like it sticks and you’re likely to feel underwhelmed.
The Reckoning Neither Shocks Nor Inspires Introspection
Arguably, The Reckoning’s other big problem is the lack of intensity and emotional resonance. Horror fans have seen this type of period piece horror in the past. Though Moorcroft’s interrogation of Grace implies a range of grotesque tortures, nothing on the screen arouses much empathy, dread, or discomfort. There’s almost a perfunctory feeling to the proceedings. Nothing in The Reckoning approaches the mind-bending audacity of Russell’s 1971 shocker, The Devils. In fact, In fact, Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem feels riskier than what Marshall puts on screen. Yet if The Reckoning somehow feels less weighty – particularly when it shifts into action territory – it also never slides into exploitation or B-movie silliness. Instead, Marshall navigates a bland, indistinct middle ground.
Though Moorcroft’s interrogation of Grace implies a range of grotesque tortures, nothing on the screen arouses much empathy, dread, or discomfort.
Despite the movie’s shortcomings, the ensemble cast rise above the mediocre screenplay. The screenplay – written by Marshall, actress Charlotte Kirk, and Edward Evers-Swindell – doesn’t give its cast very well-rounded characters. In a movie that explores the role of misogyny in the witch-hunt, Kirk’s ‘Grace’ obviously has the most with which to work. If there’s an emotional disconnect in the movie, Kirk doesn’t share any of the blame. She effectively carries the movie with her character’s transformation from haunted to avenging warrior. A frequent collaborator with Marshall, Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon) finds himself stuck between a serious study of patriarchal villainy and scene-chewing.
The Reckoning a Disappointing Effort from Neil Marshall
Though The Reckoning isn’t a bad movie, it’s a disappointing effort from Marshall. And while it’s certainly watchable, there’s no denying it’s a mess of a movie. In part, The Reckoning’s problem is in its inability to mesh genres and tones. When Marshall focuses on one genre – like The Descent – he’s far more successful. But Marshall’s experimental mixing of genres, like Doomsday, have produced mixed results. To date, The Reckoning may be Marshall’s poorest result. At least Doomsday was half of a good movie. Too reliant on jump scares. an inconsistent narrative, and jarring leaps in style, The Reckoning remains watchable, if not underwhelming.