Monday, May 10, 2021

The Reckoning, on Shudder

For obvious reasons, the witch hunts of the 17th and early 18th Centuries have been fertile ground for horror films, but if they include any supernatural elements, they sort of inadvertently justify the barbarism they seek to condemn. Director Neil Marshall and his lead actress-co-writer Charlotte Kirk try to get around this dilemma by having their heroine tormented by both the witch-hunter and the Devil. They spare her nothing and heavily lay on their anti-Church biases throughout The Reckoning, which premieres this Thursday on Shudder.

The Great Plague has ravaged London and has started appearing in the provinces where Grace Haverstock (a late 1600’s peasant, who always looks like she just stepped out of the makeup chair at her local MAC store) lives with her husband Joseph and their infant daughter Abbie. Tragically, Joseph contracts the plague while selling his grain in town (thanks to a little switcheroo the Squire plays with his ale mug). Of course, the entitled landlord wants Haverstock to pay the rent through sex, so when she violently spurns him, he has her accused of witchcraft. Judge Moorcroft, the notorious witch-finder is sent for, but his brutal tactics will not leave much for the Squire’s pleasure.

When not being tortured at court, Haverstock is menaced by the Devil and haunted by visions of her husband and mother, who pled guilty to witchcraft to save her daughter from the wrath of Moorcroft. Obviously, Marshall and company are using the witch hunts to make a statement on contemporary #metoo-era gender politics, but all their powerful male characters are so stupid, it is hard to see how they manage to walk twenty feet without falling down, let alone preserve their privileged patriarchy.

Unfortunately, the film’s heavy-handedness means it is not much fun to watch. A lot of it just plays like period-piece torture porn. Sadly, Joe Anderson (who can be an interesting thesp) mostly walks around
The Reckoning like Ben Kenobi’s Force-ghost. Sean Pertwee chews plenty of scenery as Moorcroft, but he is just a total caricature of Puritan extremism, with no hint of self-awareness regarding the absurd contradictions of his practice. Despite looking conspicuously out of place, Kirk really isn’t bad as Haverstock, but her well-reported involvement in an alleged Hollywood “extortion” scandal adds an additional layer of awkwardness to the film.

The Reckoning, Marshall, Kirk, and their co-writer Edward Evers-Swindell make their points, over and over again, but they mainly just make viewers queasy rather than scared. If you want to see some witch-hunting-era horror, check out Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm) or Robert Eggers’ The Witch instead. Disappointing in many ways, The Reckoning starts streaming this Thursday (5/13) on Shudder.