Sunday, 6 March 2011

Review: A Reckoning (AD Barker, 2009)

This review can also be found on Brutal as Hell.

A Reckoning is a small film, but thoroughly grand. It’s horror and melodrama and poetry for the same reason: it’s a meditation on the human condition. Despite its desolate, gorgeous landscapes and lonely protagonist, this is no simple last man on Earth tale. It’s difficult to synopsise A Reckoning. It tells the tale of a Man who appears to be utterly alone in the world, and as a result has created people made from straw with whom to interact – be they the children he teaches in a dilapidated school, or  the revellers and barmen in a run-down club. For me, the film is far more about one man's isolation than it is any apocalyptic future, and as such the film is an effective metaphor of a struggle for mental health as much as it is a thrilling, but ambiguous, drama.

Naturally, the film relies heavily on the central performance of the Man, and it’s safe to say that Leslie Simpson fully embodies the role. As a disturbed, lonely creature, the Man’s desperate interactions with the straw people who co-inhabit his desolate world are as touching as they are tragic; his attempts to leave his confines more so. Simpson’s performance never falters from being utterly compelling, carrying the hefty weight of the film with ease.

The desolate landscape of the film is stunningly brought to life. DoP Adam Krajczynski brings out the beautful and the beastly from the various natural landscapes on offer, from snow to seaside, while endowing the cracked man-made structures with a crumbling beauty all of their own. Director Barker must be commended for his truly affective direction, some of the Man's most frightening and touching moments framed in a such a way as to maximise emotional impact through something of an intimate distance. We feel for the Man throughout, but even in absolute close-up, we're never particularly close to him.

A Reckoning is, perhaps, not for everyone. The pace is slow, precise; and it certainly doesn't offer any easy narrative answers. For a film made independently and on a low budget, it successfully avoids that trap that many fall into: it never once looks cheap. Make-up effects are sparse but effective, and most importantly of all, character is at the film's core.

For me, A Reckoning is a unique film that should be seen by many, and I sincerely hope that others will soon have the chance to do so.

For more information on the film, see or follow @areckoningfilm on Twitter.