Movie Review: Plague and witches meet in “The Reckoning”

The interminable horror period piece “The Reckoning” is a picture out of its time. It’s a Restoration plague, swirling amidst witch hunters, witch trials and positively Medieval punishments.

Let’s give Neil Marshall (“The Descent”) and his team the benefit of the doubt and call that “the point” of it all. A great infectious calamity like a contagion brings out the primitive in us all, or at least the most deplorable among us.

Abandon humanity and human progress — science, however primitive — for “witch finders” and superstition, mob rule and conspiracies.

Sound familiar, anti-vaxxers, “COVID is a hoax” folks? History is but a distant mirror.

But this movie, a gruesome, grim, grinding, and bumping and-grinding (got to have sex scenes) affair with period detail and anachronistic dialogue, is never less than a chore to get through.

In 1665, the time of “The Great Plague,” and English town is ravaged, but a farm family (Charlotte Kirk, Joe Anderson) is socially distancing and weathering it well enough. Still, there’s a baby on the way and crops to sell, so Joseph goes to town to sell it.

That’s where he runs afoul of a harlot (Emma Holzer) and his nefarious landlord, the Squire (Steven Waddington). One poisoned drink later and he’s showing symptoms.

And when he fears for his family back home, there’s nothing for it but the noose, leaving poor Grace to dig his grave in the rain and cut his body down and bury it.

The Squire’s master plan seems murky to us, but Grace can only imagine what it is he’s truly after, and what he’s willing to do — attempted seduction, accusations of witchcraft, the works — to achieve it.

“You’ll pay for this, harlot!”

That brings in Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee), the greatest “witch finder” of them all. England’s no longer Catholic, but here’s a British version of The Inquisition in one man, a veteran of trumped-up charges and burnings at the stake, someone Grace and everybody else is familiar with.

An interesting touch. Moorcraft keeps a burn victim who survived the stake (Margit Bárdos) in his employ, as a murderous bodyguard.

“Never doubt the virtue of our task!”

With such forces arrayed against her, what chance does Grace have? Might these visions of her dead husband and mother in her prison cell hold the key?

Is Satan available?

Everything director Marshall and his team do here seems designed to drag this out, from the ridiculous afterthought of numbering the days Grace is imprisoned with intertitles — Day 1, she’s locked up, Day 2, she’s whipped, Day 3, the Rack! — to the ruminations of the witch finder.

A habit of bad horror — if you’ve got a fetching leading lady, give her a few sexual moments. Consorting with the Devil, anyone?

The tale’s turn towards revenge is too tepid and comes entirely too late. The most creative killing involves minor supporting characters.

And the whole tedious affair makes one wish they’d gone to less trouble making a bad movie with tame villains, an uninteresting lead and confused (Was this recut to play up “the plague?”), scattered story.

All that lovely period detail gone to waste.

MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, sex

Cast: Charlotte Kirk, Steven Waddington, Joe Anderson, Sean Pertwee, Emma Holzer, with Ian Whyte as The Devil.

Credits: Directed by Neil Marshall, script by Edward Evers-Sweindell, Charlotte Kirk and Neil Marshall. An RLJE/Shudder release.

Running time: 1:50

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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