Neil "The Descent" Marshall's latest finally lands on UK shores, both as a Shudder exclusive in May, and as a general digital purchase in the meantime and - either way - it suffers from feeling like a pretty cheap, amateurish effort.
Marshall landed with a hell of a one-two punch, with his debut Dog Soldiers still a firm cult classic, and his sophomore effort, The Descent, absolutely one of the best survival/creature horrors. Success led to bigger budgets, but his third film was an utter mess, attempting to blend Mad Max with Escape from New York with Gladiator with Excalibur with Apocalypse Now with Children of Men with cannibals in Scotland, and mostly ending up vastly overshadowed by the films it felt like it was merely ripping spare parts from, unable to find a worthy protagonist in Rhona Mitra or antagonist in Malcolm McDowell. Since then, Marshall has struggled to recapture the magic of his early, lean offerings. Centurion was engaging, but Hellboy - almost a decade later - was an even more catastrophic bit of career suicide, a critical mess and a Box Office bomb.
Cheap East Europe-set TV movie nonsense which doesn't even have the courage to enjoy the schlocky, gruesome potential of its Witchfinder General aspirations
Returning to his roots to do something more low key and inventive would have made logical sense and, if anything, films like The Nightingale and the recent Fanny Lye Deliver'd only show just what you can do with the right care and attention, but The Reckoning throws all of that out of the window in favour of cheap East Europe-set TV movie nonsense which doesn't even have the courage to enjoy the schlocky, gruesome potential of its Witchfinder General aspirations and instead merely comes across as a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to get his fiancé some work.
The Reckoning comes to UK shores both as a Shudder exclusive in May - a channel available independently, and under a free trial, or through Amazon Prime Video as one of its own "Channels" alongside the likes of Starz - and as a Digital Purchase across all providers in April, presented in HD with a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio.
It would have been fine in the 90s, as a bit of late night TV trash, but it doesn't have the chops to do anything even vaguely interesting in 2021
Had this been released in the early nineties, amidst the whole popularity of Buffy and Angel, possibly shot on film to give it more of a Michael Mann's The Keep look, and maybe marketed as a Tales-from-the-Crypt-esque curio, people would have likely been a lot more forgiving. Hell, it looks like it was shot in the 90s, for TV, distinguishing itself only by having a modicum of nudity and violence and a couple of really graphic notions which are utterly, utterly undone by two inescapable flaws - the lead actress can't act, and she generally walks out of any torture scenario (and there are some extreme ones here) looking like she's just been to the spa and is on her way to a modelling shoot.
It's possible that a better director - or rather a director with a better handle on his lead actress - might have been able to sell the movie based purely off a more convincing performance here, and less makeup (or, the right kind of makeup). After all, it's just The Witchfinder General through the lens of one of his victims, but Charlotte Kirk doesn't appear to have the chops for being a memorable heroine and, rather worryingly, if you look behind all of her productions, appears to have had relationships with just about anybody who could get her a film role - although, of course, that could be complete and utter coincidence. She's certainly nowhere near talented enough to take the lead here, never giving the viewer a sense of horror at what has befallen her - not just in the later stages of extreme torture, but also in the very opening setup (don't even get started on the demon nightmares). Again, it would have been fine in the 90s, as a bit of late night TV trash, but it doesn't have the chops to do anything even vaguely interesting in 2021.
Marshall should have shot it on a smaller, more authentic set (he could have perhaps persuaded Thomas Clay to lend him the set that was built for Fanny Lye), and invested more time in really putting his lead through the wringer (see: The Descent) in order to earn commensurate investment from the audience. And Kirk should have taken this - hopefully last - opportunity to show something other than oiled flesh and do something more than just promote her naked body hoping it'll earn her the next gig. Oh and Sean Pertwee, bloody hell you should have known better than to do this kind of favour for your old Dog Soldiers director.
The Reckoning is available from 13th May on Shudder (available directly or via the likes of Amazon as an additional Channel) and as a Digital Purchase from 16th April 2021.
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