Suicide is a mortal sin, yet in the time when the devil is abroad in the country for Joseph Haverstock it seemed the better to condemn himself to hell rather than to die the slow death of the plague, inflicting that terrible process of nursing him through his decay on his wife Grace and no doubt infecting her and their daughter.
Afraid of the Black Death and with their own problems, the sympathy from the townsfolk is limited and nor would it pay the rent expected by Squire Pendleton who now sees Grace as a squatter on farmland which could be put to better use; he offers her an alternative means of payment which Grace refuses so out of spite he names her a witch.
Set in the year 1665, Charles II sits on the throne of England, shifting about the country to stay ahead of the Great Plague, and gripped by fear it is easy to accuse a neighbour, especially one against whom there is already a grudge, and so it is that Grace Pendleton is brought before Judge John Moorcroft, the witch hunter who will determine her guilt and punish her accordingly.
Directed by Hellboy’s Neil Marshall from a script co-written with Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell, Kirk also stars in The Reckoning as Grace Haverstock, a woman whose exceptional beauty and flawless teeth set her apart from her pox-ridden peers even after incarceration, a small compensation for her restricted emotional range.
Marshall having created two classics of modern horror cinema, Dog Soldiers and The Descent, examinations of close groups of male and female friends under pressure, The Reckoning reunites him with Sean Pertwee, modelled here after Vincent Price’s Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, but it is a primarily a vehicle for Kirk unfathomably mediated through the genre of torture porn.
Grace subjected to monstrous physical and mental anguishes through which her cascading hair remains perfect, she has visions of both the devil (Prometheus’ Ian Whyte) and her late husband Joseph (Horns’ Joe Anderson), the latter manifesting in flashbacks so frequently the film seems uncertain whether it is moving forwards or backwards.
Shot before lockdown and suddenly finding itself mirroring the current world situation of disease spread through proximity and the unscrupulous landlords who would exploit it, The Reckoning never engages: like torture it does not produce anything worthwhile or substantial beyond the immediate response and so is only an end unto itself and ultimately counter-productive.
The final twenty minutes presenting a radical change of pace and tone more aligned with the best of Marshall’s work, running to almost two indulgent hours it is too little far too late, The Reckoning more pompous than pointed and guilty not of witchcraft but of wallowing in mud and misery rather than accelerating the story.