Cinematic Releases: The Reckoning (2021) - Reviewed


British director Neil Marshall’s career has had its fair share of ups and downs over the past twenty years.  Forging a strong following with his werewolf horror venture Dog Soldiers before cementing his status as a great director with The Descent, there was nowhere else for Marshall to go but up.  Then came Doomsday, Centurion and his much maligned Hellboy reboot and his career quickly took a nose-dive.  Long overdue for a much needed return to horror, Marshall now presents The Reckoning, an updated horror reworking of the Witchfinder General or Mark of the Devil witch hunt film that mostly returns the director to form but also brings forward the divisive screenwriting and acting talents of actress/fiancĂ©e Charlotte Kirk.


Co-written by Marshall, Kirk and Edvard Evers-Swindell, this Budapest, Hungary shot 1665 set period piece follows Grace (Charlotte Kirk), a young English widow who finds herself accused of consorting with Satan after her husband dies of the plague.  Much like Mark of the Devil, Grace fends off her sleazy landlord’s sexual advances only to be accused of witchcraft in return, eventually bringing in the sadistic witchfinder Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee from Event Horizon) to forcibly extract a confession from her.  A modern-day witch hunt film by way of Marshall’s The Descent, the film is an entertaining and often sexy B horror movie that begins initially as an endurance test of torture before ballooning into a comic-book inspired revenge feminist fantasy.
While a welcome return to the genre that made him a namesake, Marshall as a director seems to be playing second fiddle to Charlotte Kirk who is clearly running this show.  Though it touches on many of the bleak and despairing notes of The Descent it never quite goes all the way and one suspects Kirk played a bigger hand in steering this ship towards her own cinematic aims than Marshall is telling.  Pertwee is great as the witchfinder, evoking Vincent Price’s Witchfinder General and the film’s period production design and visual style are dynamic and even lush.  However, as a connoisseur of the so called ‘nunsploitation’ subgenre, The Reckoning falls somewhat short of the horrors conjured up in, say, Ken Russell’s The Devils and shares a mere fraction of that film’s intellectual and artistic heights.

Yes the portrayal of a patriarchal society of lascivious men using superstition and fear to dominate and control women is indeed still relevant today, but The Reckoning as it stands is the Game of Thrones equivalent of the witchfinder film, a B movie disguised as an involving period shocker about one of the darkest times in human history.  Moments of this are fun amid the choking atmosphere of despair but I would be lying if I said this film didn’t jump the rails and dive headfirst into comic book cliches.  One thing is for sure, while entertaining this was nowhere near the caliber set by his still impeccable and taut horror epic The Descent, a film that continues to endure and illustrates how good director Marshall can really be when he puts his mind to it.

--Andrew Kotwicki