Wowzers, there’s a lot to unpack with director Neil Marshall’s latest “The Reckoning” (available in select theaters and on VOD beginning Friday Feb. 5).
Marshall co-wrote the picture with his fiancée and leading lady Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell (who worked in the sound department on Marshall’s “The Descent”). Kirk and by extension Marshall have become somewhat controversial figures in Hollywood in recent years. Kirk has built a reputation as a “mogul slayer” after relationships she had with former Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara and former NBC-Universal vice chair Ron Meyer got each of these men ousted from their lofty positions. Kirk received a $3.3 million settlement after signing a nondisclosure agreement. Rumor has it Marshall attempted to use Kirk’s relationship with Meyer to force him into greenlighting a new film in which she’d star and he’d direct. Marshall denies this accusation – further details suggest it was made to discredit Marshall and Kirk regarding other pending sexual harassment claims. (For the record, Kirk was 19 and Meyer was 66 when they met. I’m generally inclined to believe the younger and female half of this equation.)
You can’t watch “The Reckoning” without thinking of the #MeToo movement (purposefully) and COVID-19 (accidentally, the film was written and filmed prior to the pandemic). “The Reckoning” takes place during the Great Plague of London in 1665. Kirk stars as Grace Haverstock, wife of young farmer Joseph (Joe Anderson) and mother of an infant daughter. Joseph inadvertently contracts the plague at a tavern and opts to hang himself rather than expose his spouse and child to infection.
Shortly thereafter skeezy landlord Pendleton (Steve Waddington) comes to collect rent. Grace reluctantly offers she and her husband’s wedding bands as payment. Pendleton counters with a request for sexual favors, which she sternly denies. He in turn accuses her of witchcraft. Grace is promptly imprisoned and tortured at the hands of Judge Moorcroft (Marshall regular Sean Pertwee giving the film’s best and most interesting performance).
“The Reckoning” plays like a combination of a Hammer horror film and Mel Gibson’s particular brand of sadistic torture porn, i.e. the conclusion of “Braveheart” and the majority of “The Passion of the Christ.” I sincerely hope the process of making the movie was therapeutic for Kirk, but can’t help but feel that there are elements of the overall product that transform the proceedings into a vanity project. Despite Kirk’s Grace being tortured throughout at least half of the picture, her hair and makeup are almost always immaculate. Additionally, she seems to enjoy showing off her bum about as much and as frequently as Jean-Claude Van Damme did back in the ‘90s. Then again, this could be an instance of Kirk owning her own sexuality after having suffered trauma? She’s an attractive woman, a decent actress and a decent writer as evidenced by this work. Kirk already has another project lined up with Marshall entitled “The Lair.” While I hope their personal and professional relationships remain fruitful, I’d also like to see Kirk succeed in an industry that’s done her wrong on her own two feet.
I’m a fan of Marshall’s. I don’t think “The Reckoning” hits the heights of “Dog Soldiers,” “The Descent” (arguably the scariest film of the 21st century) or “Hellboy” (2019) (yeah, I’m one of the few who dug it), but I prefer it to “Doomsday” (if I wanna watch “Mad Max” or a John Carpenter flick I’d rather just watch “Mad Max” or a John Carpenter flick) and “Centurion.” While “The Reckoning” is handsomely made and contains some awesomely gnarly gore (I cackled when a dude’s head was crushed like a grape beneath a wagon wheel – paging Bob Dylan, Old Crow Medicine Show and Darius Rucker!), it’s also a bit of a tortuous slog due to an overabundance of torture.