Producers: Daniel-Konrad Cooper, Michael Marks, Steffen Wild and Esther Turan Director: Neil Marshall Screenplay: Neil Marshall, Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell Cast: Charlotte Kirk, Joe Anderson, Steven Waddington, Sean Pertwee, Rick Warden, Mark Ryan, Bill Fellows, Suzanne Magowan, Leon Ockenden, Sarah Lambie, Emma Campbell-Jones, Maximilian Slash Marton and Ian Whyte Distributor: RLJE Entertainment
There have been good films about witchcraft trials—if you’re not into highbrow fare like “The Crucible” (either the 1956 or 1996 versions), you can always check out Michael Reeves’s 1968 cult film “Witchfinder General” (retitled “The Conqueror Worm” for American release), with Vincent Price in the title role. Unfortunately Neil Marshall’s “The Reckoning” is not among them. What promise Neil Marshall, who made such intriguing if uneven pictures as “The Descent” and “Centurion,” should have seen in it, is a mystery. (Of course, he already blighted his résumé with his horrendous remake of “Hellboy,” so this misfire should come as no surprise.)
The story is set in 1665 England, when a resurgence of the bubonic plague was ravaging the country. (The great London fire of 1666 would finally help eradicate it.) Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) and her husband Joseph (Joe Anderson) live on a small tenant farm on the land of nasty Squire Pendleton (Stephen Waddington). He covets both Grace and, it appears, the property, and so has a hand in convincing Joseph that he’s been infected. That induces the poor man to hang himself, leaving wife and child alone and at his mercy.
He has none, of course, and so when Grace rejects his advances, he accuses her of witchcraft and has her arrested and transported to prison. He also summons the notorious witchfinder Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) to extract a confession from her—through torture, of course.
And that’s basically what the rest of the movie consists of—torture scenes. Unfortunately they’re so protracted and badly done—the heroine’s hair barely gets mussed when she’s strapped onto the cross-like device, and when the devil (Ian Whyte) appears to tempt her, he looks like he’s wearing makeup left over from “Hellboy”)—that they’re as likely to elicit laughter or yawns as shudders. This drags on interminably, until, of course, Grace escapes with a little help from her unlikely friends.
There is the occasional shock moment for the dyed-in-the-wool horror fans: a secondary character’s head is squashed when he’s run over by a wagon wheel (after abusing his wife), and a hand of another is impaled on a table—but the effects are primitive and laughable. The performances are broad and unconvincing across the board, and far from intriguing (as Price’s was in “Witchfinder,” for example, since he was for a change taking the part seriously); Kirk, who also co-wrote the script, seems to prefer posing to acting.
Technically the film is highly uneven. Luke Bryant’s cinematography and Ian Bailie’s production design are reasonably good, if somewhat ragged, and Christopher Drake’s score swells up in an attempt to arouse a sense of menace, though it rarely succeeds. But Marshall proves a triple threat with his editing; the lackadaisical pacing is of a piece with his dreary writing and direction, and the dreamlike montages are more frustrating than effective.
Since Kirk is currently Marshall’s partner in real life, “The Reckoning” could be thought of as a joint vanity project. Unhappily it gives neither of them anything to be proud of.