Fantasia 2020: Neil Marshall’s ‘The Reckoning’ is Frighteningly Familiar
Neil Marshall’s The Reckoning is accidentally one of the most timely films to come out of 2020. Though it was filmed well before COVID-19 shook the world, it’s set in 1665, right in the midst of the bubonic plague and Europe’s witch hunts. Based on (obviously) true events, the film uses chaotic hatred and fear to tell a vengeful tale that still hits close to home.
In the film, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) is mourning the all-too-recent death of her husband, Joseph (Joe Anderson). Stuck raising their infant daughter on her own (during a deadly pandemic) she is soon visited by her landlord, Squire Pendleton (Steve Waddington), who demands rent despite her delicate living situation. When she spurns his grossly inappropriate and wholly unwelcome advances for an alternative arrangement, he sparks the fires of suspicion amongst the townsfolk, now certain that she must be a witch.
For those not familiar with the Malleus Maleficarum, one of the supposed signs of bewitchment was erotic temptation (and also impotence, but that’s a whole other story). That’s right, if you made a man horny, you were most likely a witch. Naturally, once Squire was denied that which he disgustingly believed he was owed, witchcraft was a natural accusation. Grace is taken and tortured for several days in an attempt to gain a confession for her supernatural sins.
Anyone who has been paying attention during the last several months will notice parallels between the events of the film and what’s going on currently. Self-quarantining and rent freezing are uncomfortably relevant, and much of what makes the first half of the film so effective is this relatable recognition.
Again, The Reckoning was written and filmed long before COVID-19, but perhaps the film suffers from how timely it has unintentionally become. The plot shifts from the grim presence of the plague (complete with plague doctors decked out in fashionably terrifying skeletal masks) and over to the horrific torture of the witch hunts, and the transition is obvious (literally identified by a title card).
The plague is more of a plot device to get Grace into the hands of Britain’s most ruthless Witchfinder, which ends up dividing the film into two distinct acts. One half is a plague film, the other a witch hunt revenge tale. It seems like two films stitched together somewhere in the middle; the plague is acknowledged through the film — to varying degrees of relevance — but there’s no real payoff.
Were this to be released during any other pandemic-free time, this wouldn’t be noticeable, but because we’re suddenly so mindful of it, it becomes hard to let go. With today’s context, the minor details become major, the historical nuances hold more weight; when they’re set aside, it feels like an important element is dropped.
For a film that is firmly focused on the atrocities committed by the Witchfinder, there’s surprisingly little torture. Obviously there’s a fine line between appropriately bloody and gratuitously gory, but The Reckoning seems to fall on the tamer side. Throughout all her trials and tribulations, Grace remains relatively glamorous. After dragging the leading ladies of The Descent through literal pools of blood and muck, it’s somewhat surprising to see such restraint from Marshall.
That said, the technical elements are all there. Christopher Drake’s musical score has a powerful drive that pushes emotion and sets a stark, dark mood. Luke Bryant’s cinematography uses lighting and framing to build some beautiful shots. The practical effects are visceral. It’s undeniably a well made film.
Medieval horror — as a whole — is a relatively stagnant subgenre and it’s admittedly hard to bring something new to the table. The Reckoning starts on a high (and, again, unintentionally on-the-nose) note, but there doesn’t seem to be enough escalation to make it stand out as spectacular. Marshall is a genre favourite for his work on modern horror classics The Descent and Dog Soldiers, so The Reckoning came with high expectations. But it feels a tad disjointed, with a passable yet overall underwhelming climax.
It is a fairly effective film with solid performances and a thoughtfully constructed, historically relevant story that rings a bit too true at the present moment. But in the grander scheme of Marshall’s work, it may get left in isolation.
Jean-Claude Van Damme Rumored to Appear as a Ghost in ‘Beetlejuice 2’
During The Hot Mic Podcast, the crew spoke about Jenna Ortega in talks to play Lydia’s daughter. Well, it turns out that the guys on Hot Mic also heard that an aging action star is set to play a ghost in the sequel as well. Over on Arrow in the Head, the direction of the aging action star immediately took the shape of Jean-Claude Van Damme. However, there are options out there that may point to other action stars like Sylvester Stallone. To be honest we would be totally fine with either of these guys coming to the world of Beetlejuice and playing a ghost.
The synopsis for Beetlejuice went like this:
After Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin) die in a car accident, they find themselves stuck haunting their country residence, unable to leave the house. When the unbearable Deetzes (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones) and teen daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) buy the home, the Maitlands attempt to scare them away without success. Their efforts attract Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a rambunctious spirit whose “help” quickly becomes dangerous for the Maitlands and innocent Lydia.
We can’t wait to find out if this bit of info is true. So far, we know that Jenna Ortega has been in talks to play Lydia’s daughter in the Tim Burton directd sequel. It will also see a return of Michael Keaton.
We will be sure to keep you updated on future Beetlejuice sequel updates.
‘The Lighthouse’ Comes to Special 4K UHD A24 Collectors Release
If it is one thing we know it is that we love Robert Eggers. Between The VVitch and The Lighthouse we were made into huge fans. Next up, Eggers will take on Nosferatu. In the meantime, A24 has released a very special edition release of The Lighthouse on 4K UHD.
The synopsis for The Lighthouse goes like this:
Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
Disc extras include:
○ Director’s Commentary with Robert Eggers
○ Exclusive mini-documentary on composer Mark Korven
○ Costume walkthrough and interview with costume designer Linda Muir
○ 2019 making-of featurette
○ Deleted scenes Book contents include:
○ Storyboard excerpts by David Cullen
○ Production design drawings by Craig Lathrop
○ BTS photography by Eric Chakeen
○ Bib-front shirt pattern made by Marvin Schlichting to Linda Muir’s design
We can’t wait to add this one to our collection. You can pick up your very own copy right over HERE at A24.
‘Scream VII’ Greenlit, But Should the Franchise Take a Decade-Long Rest Instead?
Bam! Bam! Bam! No that’s not a shotgun inside the bodega in Scream VI, it’s the sound of producer’s fists rapidly hitting the green light button to further franchise favorites (i.e. Scream VII).
With Scream VI barely out of the gate, and a sequel reportedly filming this year, it seems horror fans are the ultimate target audience to get ticket sales back at the box office and away from “press play” streaming culture. But maybe it’s too much too soon.
If we haven’t learned our lesson already, banging out cheap horror movies in quick succession isn’t exactly a fool-proof strategy to get butts in theater seats. Let’s pause in a moment of silence to remember the recent Halloween reboot/retcon. Although the news of David Gordon Green blowing off the gossamer and resurrecting the franchise in three installments was great news in 2018, his final chapter did nothing but put the tarnish back on the horror classic.
Possibly drunk on the moderate success of his first two films, Green advanced to a third one very quickly but failed to provide fan service. Criticisms of Halloween Ends mainly hinged on the lack of screen time given to both Michael Myers and Laurie Strode and instead on a new character that didn’t have anything to do with the first two films.
“Honestly, we never once considered making a Laurie and Michael movie,” the director told Moviemaker. “The concept that it should be a final showdown-type brawl never even crossed our minds.”
How’s that again?
Although this critic enjoyed the last film, many found it off-course and perhaps a stand-alone that should have never been connected to the redeveloped canon. Remember Halloween came out in 2018 with Kills releasing in 2021 (thanks to COVID) and finally Ends in 2022. As we know, the Blumhouse engine is fueled by brevity from script to screen, and although it can’t be proven, hammering out the last two films so quickly might have been integral to its critical undoing.
Which brings us to the Scream franchise. Will Scream VII get underbaked purely because Paramount wants to reduce its cooking time? Also, too much of a good thing can make you sick. Remember, everything in moderation. The first movie was released in 1996 with the next almost exactly a year later, then the third three years after that. The latter is considered the weaker of the franchise, but still solid.
Then we enter the decade release timeline. Scream 4 released in 2011, Scream (2022) 10 years after that. Some may say, “well hey, the difference in release times between the first two Scream movies was exactly that of the reboot.” And that is correct, but consider that Scream (’96) was a film that changed horror movies forever. It was an original recipe and ripe for back-to-back chapters, but we are now five sequels deep. Thankfully Wes Craven kept things sharp and entertaining even through all the parodies.
Conversely, that same recipe also survived because it took a decade-long hiatus, giving new trends time to develop before Craven attacked the newer tropes in another installment. Remember in Scream 3, they still used fax machines and flip phones. Fan theory, social media and online celebrity were developing fetuses at that time. Those trends would be incorporated into Craven’s fourth movie.
Fast-forward another eleven years and we get Radio Silence’s reboot (?) which made fun of the new terms “requel” and “legacy characters.” Scream was back and fresher than ever. Which leads us to Scream VI and a change of venue. No spoilers here, but this episode seemed oddly reminiscent of re-hashed past storylines, which may have been a satire in and of itself.
Now, it’s been announced that Scream VII is a go, but it leaves us to wonder how such a short hiatus is going to fare with nothing in the horror zeitgeist to channel. In all of this race to get the big bucks, some are saying Scream VII could only top its predecessor by bringing back Stu? Really? That, in my opinion, would be a cheap effort. Some also say, that sequels often bring in a supernatural element, but that would be out of place for Scream.
Could this franchise do with a 5-7 year hiatus before it ruins itself on principle? That break would allow time and new tropes to develop — the franchise’s life’s blood — and mostly the power behind its success. Or is Scream heading into the “thriller” category, where the characters are just going to face another killer(s) in a mask without the irony?
Perhaps that is what the new generation of horror fans want. It could work of course, but the spirit of the canon would be lost. True fans of the series will spot a bad apple if Radio Silence does anything uninspired with Scream VII. That’s a lot of pressure. Green took a chance in Halloween Ends and that didn’t pay off.
All that being said, Scream, if anything, is a masterclass at building hype. But hopefully, these movies don’t turn into the campy iterations they make fun of in Stab. There is still some life left in these films even if Ghostface doesn’t have time to catnap. But as they say, New York never sleeps.