Period horror The Reckoning 'trundles along inelegantly like a hay wain with a wonky wheel'
THE RECKONING (15, 100 mins) Horror/Thriller/Romance. Charlotte Kirk, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington, Joe Anderson, Callum Goulden, Suzanne Magowan, Emma Campbell-Jones. Director: Neil Marshall.
Released: April 16 (streaming on all major platforms)
INSPIRED by actual events, The Reckoning takes hastily scribbled notes from The Crucible and Witchfinder General then fails to decipher them properly to conjure a choking fog of superstition over mid-17th century England as tens of thousands succumb to the Great Plague.
Director Neil Marshall conducts a bloodthirsty witch hunt from a script he co-wrote with lead actress Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell, which is hamstrung by clunky, repetitive dialogue and two-dimensional characters.
Kirk's woe-begotten heroine, who is falsely accused of witchcraft and subjected to torture in pursuit of a confession, is one-note throughout and when the time comes for tables to turn sickeningly in her favour, fiery vengeance does not register emotionally or psychologically.
The rampant misogyny of the era is hammered home when a pompous landowner on horseback, stares down from his lofty mount at a grieving widow and snarls, "We all have our stations in life. I'm sorry yours is beneath me."
Copious flashbacks and dream sequences, including the central character imagining herself in flagrante delicto with the Devil, bloat the running time and delay a brutal reversal of fortunes teased by the film's title.
In 1665, year of the Great Plague, fear and paranoia exert a powerful hold on terrified survivors. Convinced the deadly pestilence is the Devil's work, the state sanctions witchfinders to interrogate and execute anyone suspected of consorting with dark forces, burning the accused alive in front of baying crowds.
Farmer's wife Grace Haverstock (Kirk) is falsely labelled a witch by neighbouring villagers after her husband Joseph (Joe Anderson) takes his own life before the plague ravages his body.
Grace's landlord, Squire Pendleton (Steven Waddington), plants the seeds of suspicion because she rebuffs his unwelcome advances during her period of mourning. Notorious witchfinder John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee), who burnt Grace's mother (Emma Campbell-Jones) at the stake on suspicion of demonic association, arrives with his assistant Ursula (Suzanne Magowan) to extract a confession.
"It is a battle of wills now, Grace, and my will is greater than yours," growls Moorcroft, armed with a dizzying array of blood-letting implements designed to purge a wicked soul.
The Reckoning trundles along inelegantly like a hay wain with a wonky wheel, playing out the combative relationship between Grace and Moorcroft to its depressingly evitable conclusion.
Marshall intersperses their exchanges with lurid gushes of crimson including one forgettable character's close encounter with a mode of transport.
Grace's friendship with the Squire's snivelling underling (Callum Goulden), whose evidence could prove her innocence, is casually sketched to lay the groundwork for a phoenix-like rise from the ashes.
The damned go up in smoke but director Marshall, who has been neck-deep in horror since Dog Soldiers almost 20 years ago, refuses to set his picture ablaze.