Neil Marshall’s The Reckoning is here. And after a year seriously lacking in spooky festivities, the prospect of a movie centered around a literal witch hunt was far too tempting to pass up. Living just a stone’s throw away from Salem (yes, as in witch trails) its not a shock that I eat that s**t up. Blair Witch Project, The Craft, The VVitch, Hocus Pocus. I get an almost prideful sense of nostalgia. Bonus points if the movie actually takes place in Salem. But with all the ghost tours, costumes and parties, its so easy to forget the bleak history these traditions derive from. Pop culture has romanticized the modern witch as being a powerful person who can use magic and communicate with spirts, all with a cuddly familiar by their side.
In a 2020 article by National Geographic highlighting this very topic, author of Caliban and the Witch Silvia Federici worries that things like gift shops and the pop culture gleam witchcraft gets nowadays “… perpetuates the idea that the so-called witches… were not victims of a terrible persecution, but were fictional figures… these were women who were charged with fictional crimes, and then horribly tortured and most often burned alive.” As gory as a movie may get for the sake of plot, rarely do films highlight such depravities in an accurate light. Until now that is.
Buckle up, folks, you’re not gonna wanna miss this one.
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A screenplay by Charlotte Kirk (in her screenwriting debut!), Edward Evers-Swindell, and Neil Marshall sets The Reckoning against the backdrop of the Great Plague and subsequent witch-hunts against women. Grace Haverstock (Kirk) must grapple with the tragic and untimely death of her husband Joseph (Joe Anderson) in a society completely consumed by fear and death. Because she rejects her landlord Squire Pendleton’s (Steven Waddington) advances, she is falsely accused of being a witch and thrown in jail for a crime she didn’t commit. Grace must endure physical persecution at the hands of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) and face her own inner demons as the Devil himself starts to work his way into her mind.
There’s plenty that beguiles in this vivaciously vicious little gem. Right from the start, one can’t help being struck by the beautifully shot, crisp and clear camerawork that soaks the landscapes in a grey hue that heightens the overall haunting aura. From the seemingly endless countryside to the grimy dungeons where Grace is held. It’s beautifully bleak wherever you look.
Iron Maiden. Public humiliation. Sleep deprivation. It’s a difficult watch at times. I know when they pulled out that damned Pear of Anguish I had to look away. Among all the torture is a cast of simply superb performances. Kirk’s performance is subtle but effective, her eyes perfect for expressing brimming panic and utter despair. She doesn’t just hit the nail on the head–she obliterates the damn thing.
All in all The Reckoning provides some very compelling, well done storytelling that breaks the mold in a way that makes for an exciting change of pace for occult movies. An infuriatingly good, simple watch.
Wicked Rating: 7/10
Director(s): Neil Marshall
Writer(s): Neil Marshall, Charlotte Kirk, and Edward Evers-Swindell
Stars: Charlotte Kirk, Joe Anderson, Steven Waddington and Sean Pertwee
Initial Release: February 5th, 2021 (Shudder)
Studio/ Production Co: RLJE Films
Length: 1 Hour 51 Minutes