GORE IN THE STORE
THE RECKONING **
Directed by Neil Marshall.
Starring Charlotte Kirk, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington.
Horror, UK, 110 minutes.
Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition 2
After the misfire of the muddled HELLBOY reboot, Neil Marshall returns to horror filmmaking with THE RECKONING, a visit to the plague-ridden England with all its fanatical religious hysteria, sadism and misogyny. Detailing the misadventures of Grace Haverstock, a widow who has lost her husband to the plague and now finds herself accused of witchcraft after defending herself from her crooked landlord. Grace finds herself under interrogation from the merciless witch finder Moorcroft who has a large number of grotesque and frightening torture devices to get the answer he wants, whether it is true or not.
There is a lot to unpack in THE RECKONING, a film that may be more interesting for its behind the scenes gossip than what has ended up on the screen. Co-written with his leading lady, and real-life girlfriend, Charlotte Kirk, a woman who has been portrayed online as both cynical manipulator and exploited victim for her part in an ongoing scandal involving influential Hollywood studio figures, the film could be looked at as a fictionalised commentary on her show business career through a genre lens. Simultaneously it could be seen as a look at the issue of using torture to gain information and its unsatisfactory results as well as the corrupting nature of religion and superstition going hand in hand.
Her look fits with the visual styling, which is one area where the film flourishes. Filmed and styled in a way that reminds of 80's and 90's rock videos, the European locations and sets atmospherically stand in for 17th century England. Kirk struggles with her role of martyr turned sword-wielding weapon of vengeance leaving Sean Pertwee to steal the scenery with his camp and louche portrayal of the sadistic Moorcroft whilst Suzanne Magowan makes another strong impression as his assistant Ursula, a burnt and scarred survivor of Moorcroft's fanaticism now slavishly devoted to her master.
There is some satisfaction to be had in the films closing segment where Marshall gets to indulge in staging some satisfying action and gore; in particular, the effects of a wagon wheel, not the biscuit, running over a chauvinist's head being a specific highlight.
Whichever way you choose to view it, Marshall's return to full-blooded horror filmmaking is flawed on most levels. The main body of the film is Grace's incarceration and torture, a repetitive and over long stretch, no pun intended, interspersed with her erotic visions of the devil and her dead husband. Such visions seem to suggest that the film will take a supernatural turn, but it steadfastly refuses to do so preferring to remain committed to its brand of realism with its fantastical torture devices, and Grace's uncannily coiffured hair and impeccable make up that seems immensely at odds with its gritty period stylings.
Fans of Marshall's double whammy of his debut DOG SOLDIERS and it's merciless follow up THE DESCENT hoping for a return to the pacey storytelling and visual verve of those cult classics will find themselves disappointed. THE RECKONING is an over long and light on plot lacking in energy. Marshall used to excel in action and character; he seems to be aiming this time for a more serious and grimmer tone that comments on the recent issues that were raised by the Me-Too movement. One hopes that with his next project, Marshall returns to the streamlined pulpy storytelling and action that made his name.