“The Descent” director Neil Marshall struggles with a period horror that strives for historical context after his failed “Hellboy” remake, but the real horror results in THE RECKONING from somewhere else entirely. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The Reckoning (UK 2020)
The year is 1665 and the plague is raging in England: After her husband falls victim to the Black Death, the young mother Grace (Charlotte Kirk) is left to fend for herself. When a greasy landowner tries to force himself on the supposedly helpless widow, she violently rejects him. Furious, he spreads dark rumors about her around town. The villagers are quickly convinced that the young woman is a witch. At night, a group of them marches to her court, takes Grace into their power and brings the innocent woman before the sadistic inquisitor Moorcroft. A merciless process with almost endless torture begins…
There isn’t much good that can be said about Neil Marshall’s witch horror film “The Reckoning”, which celebrated its USA premiere at the Fantasy Filmfest last year. But at least the story behind it is not entirely unexciting. In particular, certain details regarding the main actress, Charlotte Kirk (“How to be Single”), also the fiancée of the director who became famous for “The Descent”. As part of the world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Canada, an interview with Neil Mashall and his leading actress that had been planned long in advance was canceled after it was announced that then-NBC Universal vice president Ron Meyer had resigned from his position in the wake of some rumors. Its content: After an affair with Charlotte Kirk several years ago (and according to him consensual), she is said to have tried to blackmail him with false information in order to get the green light for several of her and her fiancé’s film projects. This is not the first time that Charlotte Kirk has been linked to such allegations. Former Warner boss Kevin Tsujjhara also resigned from his position after leaked text messages gave the impression that Kirk had gained professional advantages through a sexual relationship with him. Both men have never denied their romances with the actress, and the resignation of their jobs was said to have taken place in advance obedience. There is also talk of hush money. We don’t know what exactly is behind these stories, who wants to harm whom and why. But it gives Kirk’s performance in “The Reckoning” an interesting flavor when she poses as an iron-faced fighter against the patriarchy in the almost 100 minutes of the film.
Middle Ages? Rain? Torture? The hair is in place!
One that constantly looks as if it had just been cast off the catwalk. Even though Neil Marshall uses text panels before and after the film to draw attention to the historical context of his film, “The Reckoning” is by no means a historically accurate film. This starts with the equipment of the sets and actors. Even after many days of cruel torture, in which the protagonist had to endure all humanly possible tortures – from flogging to violent penetration with a torture ball – the hairstyle and make-up are accurate. And her physical feeling still seems completely intact when she fantasizes about her late husband in the dungeon one night and makes masturbation gestures, just hours after she was inflicted with massive pain. Whenever Grace is seen, it seems to be cameraman Luke Bryant (“Black Mirror”) not about photographing the extent of their torment. Instead, he puts the young woman in the most attractive light possible, even in the most unpleasant moments. It’s as if Neil Marshall ultimately only wanted to portray his own fiancée as aesthetically as possible, but of course that’s just pure speculation… The acts of violence as such – as evidenced by the FSK rating for ages 16 and up – also take place exclusively off-screen . After the suggestion of a torture method, there is usually a cut to the result. On blood-stained cloths and sheets from which you can piece together what might have happened in the last few hours. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing per se to avoid depicting excessive violence in a (horror) film. At the same time, “The Reckoning” is structurally a “torture film” at all times. Of the almost 100 minutes, over half of them follow the same sequence of “Day X” fade-in, introduction of a new torture method, torture and, last but not least, Grace enters her cell again and waits for it to continue the same way the next day. Anyone who expects that the filmmaker would be somewhat harsh – especially considering his previous work “Hellboy – Call of Darkness” – will be disappointed here.
“Even after many days of cruel torture, in which the protagonist had to endure all humanly possible tortures – from flogging to violent penetration with a torture ball – the hairstyle and make-up are accurate.”
Furthermore, “The Reckoning” is not only boring in terms of narrative (if you can even call it that given this thin plot), but also in terms of staging. The jump scares placed by Neil Marshall, which arise almost exclusively from Grace’s lurid dream fantasies with a devil seducing her, are all too quickly seen through and clumsy. You can immediately tell from the speed of a camera pan when the music will turn up next to scare the audience. Speaking of music: By that we mean composer Christopher Drake (“Tusk”) Far too good over long stretches anyway. His extremely theatrical chorales and instrumental sounds would be meaningful enough to accompany ten silent films at once. In addition, those responsible for the sound mix have no sense of volume. Already during the opening sequence, in which we take part in a barbaric act of witch hunting in slow motion, the score is far too loud. No exception: The dialogues are also constantly mixed too quietly and are drowned out by the intrusive music. The result is a sometimes barely understandable muddy sound. At least the subtitles tell you: you won’t miss too much anyway. The script, which is based on the novel “Red Hex” by Antony Jones and Edward Evers-Swindell, and which not only Neil Marshall and Charlotte Kirk worked on, but also the author Evers-Swindell himself, puts at most soap-worthy snippets of conversation into the mouths of its characters , which either contain Grace’s emphasis on not allowing herself to be broken under any circumstances, or the counterpoint of the men, who are all portrayed as violent and bestial.
We had imagined a dirty dungeon in the Middle Ages to be somehow filthier…
Certain historical guidelines simply don’t seem to matter if they don’t fit into the film’s image. “The Reckoning,” for example, includes a scene in which Grace is dragged out of her hut by some plague healers and taken prisoner. Apparently the fact that these same doctors were wearing a scary-looking mask seemed to be enough for the makers to automatically make them the devil’s right hand. In any case, you never see them performing medical procedures. Just like no other person in “The Reckoning”, which is actually supposed to take place during this time. The topic of plague is even mentioned in the introductory text panel, but Marshall doesn’t seem to have even considered the plague worth the background noise to add to the atmosphere. Only very occasionally do we see plague corpses lying around in the remarkably tidy village streets and, on top of that, no one seems to be afraid of coming into contact with them. No, Neil Marshall can emphasize as often as he wants that his film is about wanting to draw attention to the suffering of women during the time of witch hunts. His “The Reckoning” never has any serious historical claim. And if Marshall did have it, his attempt to combine it cinematically with a horror and torture film structure backfired spectacularly. Ultimately, “The Reckoning” would probably best be seen as a kind of “medieval rape and revenge” film, since the protagonist eventually gets her opportunity to take revenge for her torment. Unfortunately, Charlotte Kirk has so far failed to stir up sympathy for her suffering character. Pointing out that you are stronger than your own tormentor for an hour and a half with a stone-faced (or rather, makeup-painted) face is too weak a characterization, even for a horror film character.
“No, Neil Marshall can emphasize as often as he wants that his film is about wanting to draw attention to the suffering of women during the time of witch hunts. His “The Reckoning” never has any serious historical claim.”
A However, “The Reckoning” can boast a pretty impressive splatter effect. Embedded in a narrative thread that is irrelevant to the rest of the film’s plot and revolves around a friend of Grace’s and her violent husband, at some point you see a man’s face being crushed by a carriage wheel. This scene looks good, the haptic effect is reminiscent of the heyday of splatter cinema in the early 1980s. And yet this moment stands out so clearly from the film because it emphasizes the absurdity of everything in “The Reckoning”. This isn’t about illustrating a well-thought-out story; Neil Marshall didn’t intend to tell anything. Instead, his film seems like a series of pictures that he simply wanted to shoot at some point, regardless of whether they even fit into a single film or whether such a jumble of images would have preferred to remain unshot.
Conclusion: Neil Marshall’s witch horror “The Reckoning”, which is misguided in terms of content and tone, not only has an unsympathetic backstory, but is also an uncomfortable film in the worst sense of the word, which from an aesthetic point of view can hardly be distinguished from amateur costume theater.
The Reckoning is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD from May 28th.