Neil Marshall is an odd director. After the underground success of Dog Soldiers and the slightly more mainstream acclaim he found with The Decent, Marshall abandoned the horror genre as he was apparently worried about being typecast. Fair enough too, but he never really left the tropes behind. The pre-COVD pandemic post-apocalyptic Doomsday and the wildly uneven 2nd century AD romp Centurion were both full of extreme violence, heads splattering and bones breaking in the most graphic of ways that kept him at least straddling the horror genre. His most recent film The Reckoning is a return to horror, but in his return, Marshall seems to have discovered a more delicate take on cinema, possibly because he co-wrote The Reckoning with the film’s star, and his partner, Charlotte Kirk.
In 1665 the Great Plague of London was making a mess of society, and Grace’s (Kirk) husband has just dangled himself from a tree by the neck until dead as he managed to pick up a case of the plague when he accidentally swigged from a pustulent chap’s pint at the local public house. Grace digs him a hole and chops him down into it as we start this somewhat mundane journey into madness. When Grace doesn’t succumb to the sleazy landlord’s advances she is promptly accused of witchcraft, and the town being full of weak-minded misogynistic fools hastily agree and summon Sean Pertwee, England’s most feared Witchfinder General to poke and prod at Grace over the next 100 minutes or so. From here on in we are in a basic torture scenario that is pretty unexciting due to two main factors – the characters are weakly developed, and the action is not very good.
Remember that scene in Centurion when he had a wagon run over someone’s head and make it explode like a watermelon dropped from a height – all for no reason at all? We get none of that. Gone is that Marshall, and in his place we have someone who seems to be feeling around for what to replace that excessive and ridiculous violence with. However dull Centurion is, at least it has loads of fun violence. Marshall has also been known for his female lead casts and narratives, and yes this has that element, but due to the way the characters are drawn there is so little impact, and I really didn’t care about anyone. This isn’t some moody modern A24-styled horror flick like The Witch, it is more like a Hollywood B-Movie, but not as good. It is also not like The Passion of the Christ with its extremely overwrought ridiculous violence, it is a simple melodrama that is mediocre at best. The rest of the film devolves into a battle of wills between our heroine and the witch hunter until it becomes a swashbuckling revenge film lead by Our Grace. There are some torture scenes, a few rats and some dingey prison cells.
The cinematography is quite nice, and the score seems to borrow heavily from Giorgio Moroder’s Tears which just made me think of DJ Shadow’s Organ Donor the whole time. I am not sure this was intended, but it was a thing. Look this movie is fine, but I must say I was a bit underwhelmed by Marshall’s return to the horror fold. I would much rather watch his Mad Max ‘homage’ as at least it has energy. This film feels like it tried but couldn’t quite make it, which is a shame as I do want to see what Marshall comes up with next.