Neil Marshall must be having one hell of a year. Allegations of blackmail and extortion, recovery from the box office and critical flop of the Hellboy reboot from 2019, and now the world premiere release of his latest genre flick on a limited digital platform; you can’t help but wonder if the guy is actually okay. But then again, his films may just be a clear reflection of his internal ambitions. A decent man wouldn’t have crafted the abomination that was Hellboy, nor would he settle for the mediocrity of his latest venture The Reckoning. A medieval period piece hellbent on riding on the Me Too culture wave, it’s clear that Marshall doesn’t have a real clue on what he’s actually trying to say.
Is he condemning religious institutions? Commenting on unholy torture practices? Or is he critiquing masculinity and the conjoining forces of faith and family? The Reckoning is a confused film that decides to merely hint at these ideas and replace them with sadistic self-gratifying shock and gore. Casual decapitation, throat slitting, and some pretty hilarious fire stock effects; even on a technical scale the film is lousy in any clear-cut direction. There’s some admirable beautifully woven costumes and gowns, but it just doesn’t make for the phony makeup, hair-styling, and production design. The film reeks of artifice, where Marshall’s lack of attention creates a frivolous cinematic atmosphere.
The film is meant to be a tense, richly satisfying modern parable set during the Black Death. Instead, it feels like an amateur medieval-inspired piece of flash-fiction; a story that can very well be told in half of it’s runtime, but is stretched out due to lazy screenwriting and direction. As the witch-finders infiltrate the frame and attack our lead heroine, the more unbearable the mediocrity becomes. There’s nothing worse than settling for a film that is just ever so slightly below average. The best films contain some sort of risk factor, an essential sacrifice from that cast crew. The Reckoning is missing this element, in a film desperately looking for focus.
Disguising itself as a feminist fist-pump future cult classic, but unveiling its true form as just some trashy piece of genre filmmaking, Marshall’s depiction of a real human tragedy is almost insensitively bad. Making matters even more eye rolling, the forgetful nature of The Reckoning is nearly a tragedy. In the hands of literally any other creative director with an actual voice, the film could have easily evolved into the next major decade-defining sleeper horror joint. Instead, we have a film riddled with unnecessary jump scares — directed by a potential hack who is currently facing some rather drastic legal issues. Oy ve!
The Reckoning screened digitally at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, as part of the festival’s official selection