As the plague ravaged much of Europe, fear and paranoia spread like a wildfire. Desperate people needed someone or something to blame for the pain and horrors afflicting the land. A mix of superstition and religion led to hysteria surrounding witches being the cause of the death. The Witch Finders were formed to arrest, interrogate, and execute anyone they deemed a witch. Writer/director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers) dives into the madness in The Reckoning, which is inspired by actual events.
The Reckoning takes place in 1665 England. Grace (Charlotte Kirk – who also wrote the film) and Joseph Haverstock (Joe Anderson) are a happy couple with their own farm, keeping to themselves. They have just welcomed a baby girl, Abby, to the world and love her deeply. In a cruel twist of fate, Joseph becomes ill with ‘the sickness.’ In order to save his wife and child from the same horrific fate, Joseph ends his own life. That seemingly selfless act only leads to more heartbreak and devastation than Joseph ever imagined.
Shortly after Grace finds and buries Joseph’s body – squire Peck (Mark Ryan) sees a window of opportunity. Not only does he want to make sure he gets the rent he’s owed, but he fancies Grace. He tries to force himself upon her, but she manages to evade his advances. Humiliated and angry, Peck does the only logical thing and accuses Grace of witchcraft, sending the town into a frenzy. Grace is arrested and thrown into jail. Peck calls on the services of Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) – who was one of England’s cruelest Witch Hunters. Moorcroft happens to be the same Witch Hunter who accused and killed Grace’s mother for being a witch decades earlier. Grace locks into a battle of wills with Moorcroft, trying to avoid the same fate as her mother.
What women that were accused of witchcraft had to go through was horrific and terrible. Marshall and team do not hold back when depicting these acts of torture. The Reckoning lines up torture method after torture method that Moorcroft makes Grace endure. Many of them are so vial that they are not for those with queasy stomachs. The Reckoning tries to do these women service by bringing these horrors to light and not sugar coating them. They may not be easy to watch but are a powerful part of the story and add to the atmosphere that Marshall has created.
This atmosphere is one of the aspects of The Reckoning that stands out the most. The settings, script, and characters all help to transport the audience back to this harrowing time. There are some outstanding visuals throughout the film. Marshall masters framing and lighting in certain shots that will be stuck in the audience’s mind for quite some time. He blends shots from different viewpoints and times to make for an interesting narrative experience. Tales of witchcraft and witch hunts have been told before, but The Reckoning manages to feel like a fresh story. Kirk’s impressive performance is a strength of the film and helps drive it forward. Some of the other actors were a bit rigid, but I enjoyed Kirk’s range.
The major issue with The Reckoning lie in its repetitiveness. An exchange of wills between Moorcroft and Grace, get tortured, back to the cell, dream about demons – rinse and repeat. This same formula encompasses a bulk of the film. The momentum from a strong opening fades fairly quickly. The methods of torture change, and the dreams are slightly different – but there isn’t enough variance. A solid leading performance, great camerawork/cinematography, and haunting visuals don’t reach their potential due to this repetition in the script. That being said, there is enough here to warrant a watch – keeping in mind the graphic nature and brutality make this far from a family friendly film.