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Reckoning, The (2020)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Witches, Man. . ."
1 stars

Filmmaker Neil Marshall has long been a cult favorite among a certain group of genre movie buffs and for the life of me, I have never been able to figure out why. He made his name with the low-budget horror thrillers “Dog Soldiers” and “The Descent” and while those films did show glimmers of ingenuity in the early going, they were both undone both dodgy screenwriting and direction that was far more focused on flash than in creating suspense. Those efforts were followed up by such dismal works as the nonsensical post-apocalyptic thriller “Doomsday,” the bewildering Roman Empire-era war epic “Centurion” and, following a long sojourn into television, a disastrous attempt to reboot the “Hellboy” franchise. Following that high-profile disaster, Marshall has elected to go back to his low-budget horror roots with “The Reckoning” but the results are so dire that even Marshall’s remaining proponents may find themselves throwing in the towel after sitting through it.

The film is set in England circa 1665 as the land is being swept by both the plague and religious hysteria. While on a trip into town, farmer Joseph (Joe Anderson) is exposed to the plague and when he realizes this upon returning home to his wife, Grace (Charlotte Kirk) and their infant daughter, he hangs himself to prevent it from spreading to his loved ones. Soon afterwards, loathsome landlord Pendleton (Steven Waddington) arrives to collect the rent and offers her the chance to pay it off with sexual favors instead. When she refuses and fights off his more aggressive advances, he spreads the word throughout town that she is a witch and she winds up imprisoned and facing torture.

When Grace refuses to give in, the town brings in Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee), a so-called “witch finder” with a long track record of extracting confessions from those accused of witchcraft through increasingly brutal methods. Over the course of the next five days, Grace is forced to endure one unspeakably painful act after another during the days while spending the nights hallucinating the presence of her late husband and even a devil. Nevertheless, she will not break and the film builds to a final confrontation between her and Moorcroft in which all hell breaks loose, perhaps literally as well as figuratively.

With this film, Marshall is offering viewers a work clearly inspired by “The Witchfinder General,” a brutally effective historically-based horror effort from Michael Reeves, a promising British filmmaker who died soon after it was released, and featuring Vincent Price in one of the very best and most genuinely frightening performances of his long career. Marshall may have good taste in other people’s movies but once again betrays little of it in regards to his own work. Although the story starts off on an intriguing, if admittedly familiar note with its exploration of the plague period and the hysteria it helped to inspire among the population, he quickly abandons all of that in order to put his focus almost entirely on Grace enduring her various tortures before eventually getting around to her equally violent revenge on her tormentors in the final reel. These scenes are especially peculiar because while they go on seemingly forever and show Grace suffering mightily, they are staged in such a way so that we linger on the pain without having to endure the potentially off-putting details of what is actually being done to inspire such pain. If there was some ultimate point to all of this cannily presented brutality, one might be able to excuse it but as presented, it feels more as if Marshall is indulging in some personal fetishes and forcing viewers to watch as he satisfies them.

There are a lot of problems with the film—the agonizingly thin screenplay, Marshall’s clunky direction, the deadly pace, the uninteresting characters, the production’s obvious low-budget nature—but the biggest flaw of them all is Charlotte Kirk, who not only plays Grace but who also co-wrote the screenplay with Marshall and Edward Evers-Swindell. As Grace, she is front-and-center throughout the film and is never convincing for a second—whether trying to emote during the dramatic moments or finally unleashing her fury towards the end during her big action beats, she is a complete stiff who manages to make every utterance come across as flat, even when she is screaming during her various tortures. This would be enough to sink most movies all by itself but to pile on the absurdities even further, she spends the entire film looking as if she just stepped out of the makeup chair—she remains salon-perfect even after a whipping and her frequent nude scenes in her dungeon cell (don’t ask) have the airbrushed quality of an exceptionally odd “Playboy” video.

“The Reckoning” is absolute garbage—a film so bad that even that dreadful “Hellboy” movie winds up looking a little better in retrospect in comparison to the inanities that Marshall has inflicted on viewers this time around. Unless you have the desire to see Charlotte Kirk undergo nearly unendurable pain for a couple of hours (and there may be at least a couple of Hollywood bigwigs who might fit into that category, according to a recent “Vanity Fair” article on her), I cannot imagine any reason to sit through any of it. You would be much better off seeking out a copy of the aforementioned “The Witchfinder General,” a film that takes the same basic material but crafts into the kind of genuinely creepy work that will linger with you long after it ends. Granted, the makeup on the female characters does not quite have the fashion spread sheen on display here, but I guess you can’t have everything.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33589&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/04/21 16:41:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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