Home > Reviews > THE RECKONING – Christopher Drake

THE RECKONING – Christopher Drake

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Reckoning is a medieval horror movie written and directed by British filmmaker Neil Marshall, whose previous works include Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday, the re-boot of Hellboy, and several of the best episodes of Game of Thrones. The film is set in England in 1665 and stars Charlotte Kirk as Grace Haverstock, a young mother whose husband commits suicide after contracting the bubonic plague. When Grace rebuffs the advances of her late husband’s business partner Pendleton (Steven Waddington) – he wants both her property AND her body – Pendleton uses his influence to exact a sadistic revenge, accusing Grace of witchcraft. Before long Grace finds herself imprisoned and at the mercy of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter, Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee), who forces her to endure endless physical and emotional torture, while she maintains her innocence. It’s a parable of the sort of horrific misogyny women have had to deal with for centuries, dressed up as light torture porn, but it’s done fairly brisk business since its premiere as a video-on-demand in February 2021.

Previous Neil Marshall movies have been scored by a range of British composers including Mark Thomas, David Julyan, and Benjamin Wallfisch, but The Reckoning is different as it sees a rare movie outing for American composer Christopher Drake. Drake is known mostly for his scores for dozens of Warner Brothers/DC animated super hero films such as Batman: Gotham Knight, Wonder Woman, Batman: Under the Red Hood, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, all of which are big, theme-filled, orchestral action-adventures. The Reckoning is, necessarily, a very different kettle of fish, and it opens a door to a whole new side of Drake’s writing.

In my review of Abel Korzeniowski’s The Nun in 2018 I wrote of the challenge I face as a reviewer when I am presented with a score which is technically outstanding, but to which I dislike listening. This often happens with me with really extremely dissonant horror scores such as The Nun, and The Reckoning is another one to add to that list. To be fair to Drake, there are large parts of the score which are really very listenable indeed, but for the most part The Reckoning is made up of some of the most challenging orchestral carnage and mayhem I have heard in quite some time.

There is no main theme, per se, but instead there are a series of recurring textural, rhythmic, and instrumental ideas which appear to relate to different aspects of the story. The first of these is introduced in the first cue, “Maleficia – Main Titles,” and appears to be a set of textures which relate directly to the concept of witchcraft. Drake uses various unsettling techniques to create an atmosphere of dread, most of which are vocal –moans, whispering, glossolalia – backed by various disturbing orchestral and electronic dissonances. The second cue, “Mourning,” is probably the highlight of the score, and is an 8-minute exploration of Grace’s character built around a truly superb lament for strings. Drake’s writing here is quite magnificent; the solo cello drips with tragedy and mournful beauty, and is accompanied by eerily beautiful voices and electronic tones which sound like chimes. It builds and builds as it progresses, with gorgeous violin flourishes that give it an air of faded classicism, until it eventually reaches an impressively large-scale finale filled with scope and grandeur and especially soaring choral writing. There is a lot of Christopher Young at his most beautifully melancholy in this music – think scores like Bless the Child, for example – and if that style appeals to you, so will this.

Once the central accusation is made and the story of Grace’s systematic abuse at the hands of the church begins in earnest, Drake really goes for broke with his all-out horror music. Cues like “Rope to Grave,” “The Proposition,” “Abduction & Imprisonment,” and “Apparitions” are deeply, deeply unpleasant, vicious collisions of Penderecki-style shrieking strings, nervous pizzicato textures, nerve-shredding stingers, guttural brass outbursts, and vocal ideas that range from howling to whispering. Once in a while a moment of tonal consonance will take over, usually a variation of Grace’s theme, and when it does it feels quite shocking when juxtaposed against the musical carnage elsewhere.

Halfway through the score two new ideas emerge – a weighty, throbbing four-note motif, and a gaudy flourish of church organs – both of which come to be associated with the Judge Moorcroft character who arrives to oversee and, at times, take part in Grace’s torture. “Whipping Post,” “Judgement is Coming,” and “Moorcroft Arrives” all feature these two new ideas prominently, accompanied by darkly surging strings, imposing brass, and tolling bells. It’s all very melodramatic, full of portent and impending doom, but it’s very vivid, and brings back a lot of memories of scores like Paul Ferris’s work for the 1968 classic British horror film Witchfinder General.

The bulk of the rest of the score tends to comprise various different permutations of these four or five ideas – the ‘Malefica’ witchcraft ideas, the all-out horror textures, the more emotional music for Grace, and the two motifs related to Moorcroft, including the prominent church organs. Drake allows the ideas to intermingle, play in counterpoint, and blend together in a variety of different ways, as Moorcroft devises more and more elaborate tortures for Grace, and as Grace continues to defy him and proclaim her innocence. “The Devil” is an interesting cue which begins quite abstractly, but eventually turns into a heaving, boiling musical depiction of evil. “The Devil’s Lust” does some rather unsettling things with unnerving, howling woodwinds. “Aftermath” is mournfully beautiful, a more detailed exploration of Grace’s theme.

Later, “My Will is Greater Than Yours” builds to a massive finale filled with operatic vocals offset by dark strings, while “Ain’t Takin Yer Shit/The Bargain” begins with a sequence of enormously challenging dissonance, but begins to work in some unexpectedly folksy string ideas as it develops, offering hints of warmth coupled with defiance. The cue eventually sounds like a cross between a medieval madrigal and traditional Scottish music, and over the course of the next couple of cues emerges as an idea signifying Grace’s redemption. The subsequent “The Reckoning” contains some dynamic action music in its final third, rhythmic and exciting, and ends with a bold, overwhelming percussion sequence.

The final three cues in the score are all superb. “Free Yourself” revisits the medieval folk/Scottish stylistics, again adopting an emotional tone of rebelliousness and determination. The relentless clattering in the percussion gives it a sense of scope and scale, as do the increasingly prominent soaring strings and brass accents, and when the cue ends with more of the church organs they feel more like religious salvation and deliverance than theocratic oppression. “Well Escape and Day V – The End” showcases light, airy woodwinds that offer a gentle sense of relief, while the poignant strings become powerful towards the end, especially when they combine with brasses and angelic voices. Everything is summed up in “The Reckoning End Titles,” which are expansive, emotional, and rich in scope, and concentrate mostly on Grace’s thematic textures topped with a florid violin solo.

However – and here’s the one criticism – the album is far, far too long. As good as Drake’s music is, releasing almost 99 minutes of it is an unnecessary indulgence, and as a result far too much of the score’s middle section gets bogged down in relentlessly unpleasant, shrieking horror dissonance; Moorcroft could easily have used it as another instrument of torture had he been so inclined. There is a truly outstanding 40-50 minute album to be had here, one which strikes a balance between the impressively oppressive horror music and the moments of beauty that come via Grace’s theme, but in its current form it’s just way too much, and as a result the heavy horror overwhelms the parts that could offer a more digestible listening experience.

Despite this, in terms of actual technical composition and dramatic application, The Reckoning is superb. It showcases a side to Christopher Drake that I had never heard before, and his mastery of these kinds of orchestral forces is impressive indeed. The more melodic cues like “Mourning” and “Free Yourself” are clearly the standout pieces for me, but overall there is very little one can criticize in the score as a whole. The intent is to scare and intimidate the listener, while also making you sympathetic to Grace’s awful plight, and Drake succeeds completely in doing just that.

Buy the Reckoning soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Maleficia – Main Titles (2:37)
  • Mourning (8:34)
  • Tending the Land (1:03)
  • Squire Wants a Word (3:44)
  • Riding Into Town (2:02)
  • Joseph Drank from the Wrong Cup (1:40)
  • Rope to Grave (2:42)
  • The Proposition (5:44)
  • Abduction & Imprisonment (7:10)
  • Apparitions (1:27)
  • Day I – Whipping Post (1:09)
  • Judgement is Coming (3:39)
  • Moorcroft Arrives (1:48)
  • The Devil (1:13)
  • Day II – The Inquisition (2:29)
  • The Devil’s Lust (2:06)
  • Day III – Witch Knife Torture (2:47)
  • Day III – Aftermath (1:25)
  • Ursula and The Devil (7:33)
  • Day IV – My Will is Greater Than Yours (6:01)
  • I Sentence You to Death (0:37)
  • Ain’t Takin Yer Shit/The Bargain (9:38)
  • The Reckoning (6:34)
  • Free Yourself (7:02)
  • Well Escape and Day V – The End (3:27)
  • The Reckoning End Titles (4:32)

Running Time: 98 minutes 55 seconds

Filmtrax (2021)

Music composed and conducted by Christopher Drake. Orchestrations by Christopher Drake. Recorded and mixed by Daniel Kresco. Album produced by Christopher Drake.

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