Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charlotte Kirk, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington, Joe Anderson, Suzanna Magowan, Sarah Lambie, Ian Whyte, Callum Goulden, Leon Ockenden, Emma Campbell Jones, Mark Ryan, Bill Fellows, Oliver Trevena
Written by: Edward Evers-Swindell, Charlotte Kirk, Neil Marshall
Directed by: Neil Marshall
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 110
Date: 02/05/2021

The Reckoning (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bland Witch

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Long and grim, the Black Plague-era, witchcraft story The Reckoning is miles away from the artistry and scares of something like The Witch, focusing instead on endless, uninspired scenes of torture and nightmares.

It's 1665, during the time of the Black Plague, and Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) finds herself widowed, with a young baby, after her husband (Joe Anderson) contracts the disease. Attempting to run the small family farm by herself, she is approached by the evil landlord, Pendleton (Steven Waddington), demanding rent. She asks for more time, but the landlord tries to rape her. Back at the tavern, his version of events brings about calls of witchcraft. A notorious witchfinder, Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee), is called in, and Grace is captured, imprisoned, and tortured. But she refuses to confess. Rather, she holds onto hope that she can escape and be reunited with her baby daughter.

Director Neil Marshall, who made an auspicious debut into horror with the films Dog Soldiers and The Descent, has trouble reaching those heights again with The Reckoning. Marshall seems to want to go to very dark places with this material, but he also pulls back at the last minute, creating a kind of numbing quality. The tortures Grace is subjected to are suggested to be quite severe, but little actual gore is shown, and Grace always seems fine afterward, her hair and makeup barely affected.

The screenplay, co-written by Marshall, Edward Evers-Swindell, and star Kirk, dishes out several "surprises," mostly little origin stories, telling how certain characters or situations came about, but all of them are easily guessed. Especially frustrating is that The Reckoning has very little to say about the plague, or witch-finders — both of which could have been thematically linked to modern times — and spends very little time developing the characters past their most basic wants. Marshall gets in a couple of good moments here and there, notably a sequence in which Grace looks for an intruder in darkness amidst flashes of lightning, but those are too few and far between.

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