The Reckoning follows a widowed mother, Evelyn (Charlotte Kirk), who is accused of being a witch in plague-riddled England in 1665. While enduring unfathomable torture, she struggles to refrain from a false confession while her soul fights for safety from the Devil's advances at night.
The Reckoning Review
On the surface, The Reckoning offers little fresh meat to the smorgasbord of critique that is the perspective of the Catholic church during the middle ages/early modern period. It is, predictably, scathing towards its viewpoint of the clergyman represented, and rightfully so, particularly in the case of the witch hunts that pervaded the times, especially in times of plague and famine. As has been explored in films past, the story also focuses on the negative effect these times had on women, who already had it particularly rough with their social status at the time. But to be accused of something that will lead to your eventual torture and death at the whim of anyone's tongue with whom you rub the wrong way, it must have been a horror beyond that even displayed here.
But the film does a good job of tackling the oppressions in more ways than one, as we follow not only the tortured protagonist, but occasionally her sister, who provides a terrifyingly poignant perspective of those who are not-yet accused but regularly threatened so. The film powerfully portrays through its witch hunting plot that oppression may be more apparent through things like public torture, but may also be more subtle through simple words and threats. The balance given to this subplot helps carry the message in a more engaging way, while not taking away from Charlotte Kirk's powerful performance.
A horror film does not require supernatural elements to be effective, but when they are teased -- especially to the well-executed degree that The Reckoning achieved -- and not fully explored or committed to, it can be a bit disappointing. Neil Marshall's insistence on keeping his supernatural elements at a dreamlike distance strengthens the nuance of the plot while weakening the horror viewer's satisfaction (at least in my case). Because of the well-crafted effects work shown when Satan makes his appearance, I wanted more in the final act than was given. Perhaps it is to this end that I would have preferred nothing at all. For my disappointment would not have distracted me from Evelyn's final act.
Having said that, I am divided...I had a high appreciation for the nuance in the morality of the entire piece because of the Devil's temptations. Evelyn's constant battle with physical torture during the day and spiritual torture at night makes her pain and endurance all the more unrelenting and powerful. The presence of the Devil and his promises of shelter from further pain are separate yet in parallel with the temptations of deceit requested from the clergyman. Evelyn is intent on keeping her soul pure, not only in spite of the men unfairly holding her captive, but also from the Devil himself. She refuses to give into the temptations of either evil, that are similar yet distinct. It adds to the flavor of the piece that the spiritual battle is not disregarded or melded into the physical battle she is enduring, but rather kept as its own internal struggle that runs parallel with her earthly perils, which is not a common viewpoint in horror movies.
In my opinion, Marshall's work peaked with The Descent and this film doesn't change that. But this movie does prove he belongs behind the camera directing unique and dark tales that span a broad spectrum of material. He has a good eye for the macabre and grotesque, and tends to blend CG with practical effects in a way that benefits the overall experience. The Reckoning is by no means perfect, struggling with repetitive scenes and some pacing issues among other things, but it was a dark, dramatic horror piece that tried to give more substance than we are used to gathering from his films...and often times succeeding in doing so.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 8/10
Horror Quality: 6/10
Film Quality: 7/10