Following the failure of his remake of “Hellboy” in 2019, “The Descent” director Neil Marshall returns to his conventional horror roots with “The Reckoning,” an uneven melodrama about an innocent young widow accused of witchcraft during the Great Plague of London in 1665. “The Reckoning,” which aspires to be a rousing story of female empowerment in the face of oppressive patriarchy and religious extremism, has some compelling moments but relies too heavily on fantasy scenes to produce scares, and its reputation is severely harmed by the protagonist repeatedly emerging from extreme torture sessions with barely a hair out of place or a smudge on her makeup.
Marshall’s latest film, which is a world apart from arty contemporary folk-horrors like “The Witch” and “Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse,” is more closely linked to hellfire European exploitation titles from the past like “Mark of the Devil” (1970), “Blood on Satan’s Claw” (1971), and Michael Reeves’s 1968 cult classic “Witchfinder General,” starring a non-hammy
Though it was written and filmed before COVID-19, the vivid opening scenes depicting pestilence and death spreading through England have clear similarities with recent events. Young farmer Joseph Haverstock (Joe Anderson) hangs himself rather than expose his wife Grace (Charlotte Kirk) and their baby daughter to the plague after contracting it in a city tavern.