For the first time since 2019’s ill-fated Hellboy reboot, director Neil Marshall returns to the horror genre with The Reckoning, in which a young woman (Charlotte Kirk) is accused of witchcraft in northern England in 1665. For Marshall, who launched his directorial career in the early 2000s with Dog Soldiers and the now classic The Descent, The Reckoning represents a return to the genre that gave him his start and to his early independent days, following 2019’s poorly received reboot of the horror-themed Hellboy franchise.
Hellboy, which was not a sequel to the two films made by Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Perlman, starred David Harbour as the title demon. It was also Marshall’s first feature in nine years–a break during which he directed episodes of Westworld, Hannibal, and particularly Game of Thrones. Yet Hellboy landed with a loud thud both at the box office and with critics.
Marshall tells Den of Geek that he took the assignment to direct Hellboy purely as a means to get back into directing features.
“It was one of those things,” he says now. “The reason I was away from features for nine years was not out of choice. I was trying to get my features made during that time. But because of the revolution in television, there was a certain kind of budget level that I had been working in that disappeared from features and was now going into television, during a transition period of the last 10, 15 years. And I couldn’t find anybody to finance films at that kind of level.”
The director says that when he was initially approached about Hellboy, the idea was to create more of a straight horror version of the character, which was created by comics writer-artist Mike Mignola in 1993 as a Nazi-summoned demonic entity who becomes a semi-heroic paranormal investigator on Earth.
“That appealed to me, and obviously getting a chance to do a feature was a big thing,” says Marshall. “Despite my reservations or whatever, I jumped at it, because it was a chance to do a feature after nine years. I wanted to get back in the game. But I made an unwise decision, because I should have based my choice purely on whether the script was any good. Unfortunately, the script was never any good, and there’s only so much a director can do.”
Marshall notes that the problems with the Hellboy script arose from confusion over what kind of film it was supposed to be.
“I’ve said it a few times before, you can’t polish a turd,” the director bluntly remarks. “Even the best director in the world can’t make a masterpiece out of a script that was substandard. This was a confused script from the start, combining different stories and sticking rigidly to the comics, which worked fine as graphic novels. But when you translate them to the screen, there are gaping plot holes.”
Unfortunately, Marshall continues, the producers “just didn’t care” about getting much input from the director despite his experience with the horror genre.
“Ultimately, it came across that they brought me in so they could tell me what to do,” he says. “They didn’t really want to make a horror version of it at all, because I was the most experienced horror person involved in the entire production, and I wasn’t allowed to touch the script. I wasn’t allowed to bring any kind of horror essence to it. So it just ended up as a disaster, really. It was just a mess, and a deeply unpleasant experience.”
Reporting from around the time of Hellboy’s release seems to corroborate much of what Marshall tells us, but he also takes responsibility for getting involved in the first place: “That’s the price that I paid for making the wrong choice, or making it for the wrong reasons specifically,” he says now, adding that going back to his roots with The Reckoning was a “breath of fresh air” after Hellboy.
“It was the complete opposite,” he explains. “On Hellboy, I had lots of money and no creative input. On this one, I had full creative control over the piece and no money. But that was a good sacrifice to make because the experience of making The Reckoning was just creatively way more satisfying.”
The Reckoning is streaming now on Shudder.