Fantasia’s virtual opening film made its way to the festival on the first night of the two-week online extravaganza on Thursday, August 20th, 2020. From the United Kingdom came an advanced screening of “The Reckoning” from director Neil Marshall (“Dog Soldiers” and “The Descent”). A tale of witch hunting and torture from the 17th century is at hand.
England, 1665. A great plague has decimated thousands of lives while others are agonising physically and emotionally. Many believe the disease to be the work of the Devil, thus resulting in the creation “Witch Finders” who seek out those they consider to be an acolyte of Lucifer himself. Grace Haverstock’s (Charlotte Kirk; “Ocean’s 8”) husband, Joseph (Joe Anderson; “The Crazies” (2010), “The Ruins” and “The Grey”) succumbs to the horrible sickness, leaving her to raise their infant daughter alone. When her landlord attempts to force her to pay rent through sexual advances, she violently turns him away. He then seeks revenge by convincing the village that she must have knowledge of witchcraft for her and her baby to still be healthy after her husband passed away. Her daughter is then kidnapped as she is captured, tortured and questioned by the renown and revered Witch Finder, Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee; (“Dog Soldiers”, “Event Horizon”, “Equilibrium” and the “Gotham” series). Much agony ensues.
Right from the start, a harrowing and haunting soundtrack floods your ears from composer Christopher Drake, whose score will return often, at appropriate times throughout the motion picture. Co-writer and director Neil Marshall does a good job at avoiding any dull moments within the first 45 minutes, despite the fact that most of the scenario is not reinventing the wheel. Most of the film is rather enjoyable for totally different reasons other than writing and directing, actually.
The visual effects department definitely deserves a tip of the hat for their work. There are certainly some impressive practical effects and make-up, forcing us to wince from the brutal violence and grisly gore of the remains of the dead. The horribly disfigured corpses scattered around the land are in such bad shape that it can be nothing else but a brutal reminder of how death has taken over everyone’s lives. In addition to this, the visual look of the Devil, played by Ian Whyte (“Game of Thrones”, “Prometheus” and “Alien Vs. Predator”), present in some hallucinatory (or are they?) scenes, is particularly skin-crawling and effective. There’s even a remarkable kill scene involving a wagon wheel that’ll blow your mind, despite the fact that it comes straight out of left field and with no extra purpose to the storyline.
Casting director Jeremy Zimmerman did a fantastic job assembling this stellar cast. While lead actress (who also co-wrote the film) Charlotte Kirk possesses a powerful, silent strength within her, she is surrounded by some typical characters you love and love to hate. Edwin (Callum Goulden; “Ghost Stories”) will definitely become a fan favorite character while Pendleton (Steven Waddington; “Sleepy Hollow”) will make you sick to your stomach at how selfish his motives are. Meanwhile, the always-excellent Sean Pertwee as the Witch Finder adds even more credibility to an already superb cast. As much as we loved him as Alfred in “Gotham”, we despise him in “The Reckoning”, proving once more how much of an excellent actor he truly is.
As mentioned above, the storyline is typical, with usual outcomes for usual characters. One disappointing factor in the film is that antagonists don’t get such satisfying revenge for everything they put Grace Haverstock through. There was so much potential for medieval, violent retaliation simply left on the table that it might leave a sour taste in your mouth.
Nonetheless, without being the best witch hunting feature film you’ll find out there, “The Reckoning” is something you should give a watch for everything surrounding the average screenwriting and directing, deserving a score of 7/10.
Article written by SIMON ROTHER