Neil Marshall talks about sexism during the Great Plague

Interview with Neil Marshall The Reckoning
The jugement, which is the final horror film from the mind of director and writer Neil Marshall (Hellboy, Lowering), is slated for release on Shudder tomorrow, May 13th. Set during the Great Plague in 1665, the landmark film follows a mother played by Charlotte Kirk who is unfairly accused of being a witch after her husband’s death. The film also stars Joe Anderson, Steven Waddington and Sean Pertwee.

Ahead of the film’s release, ComingSoon.net editor-in-chief Tyler Treese spoke to Marshall about The jugementthe portrayal of sexism, its frightening scenes and the mob mentality that has led to the unjust deaths of thousands of women.

Discover our The jugement interview below:

Tyler Treese: One thing that really stood out about The Reckoning is that it really picks a good time period for a horror movie. There is the fear of the invisible plague. Plague doctor masks are so scary. You have human crowds. There are so many good elements. What was it that got you really excited from a horror standpoint to do this during this time?

Neil marshall: I think that’s obviously a big, big part of it. It kind of ties into all that kind of gothic horror and crotchless hustle that you kind of know from Frankenstein and the classics as well as stuff we find in general. Of course, this period of your English horror which is linked to Hammer [Films] and there’s a tradition around that kind of time and that kind of horror, which I found fascinating. That was the big goal for me.

Is it difficult to film a period piece compared to a modern image?

Definitely more difficult. I want to say [you’ve got] costumes, horses… Horses hurt the neck. They are very cinematic, but difficult and expensive. So there are so many elements like that, and stories that you can’t trust like people calling each other on the phone and the like. Well, how, how does information get from one character to another? And during that time, all of those things that you have to think about that we take for granted now. You think, “Well, how would they know that?” “How would they understand what is going on?” So there is a lot to think about. I love world building and I love period items myself. I’ve done a lot of historic things over the years. I’m a history student anyway. So, I just like to immerse myself in that and try to recreate these worlds as sensibly as possible.

A lot of people avoid rules like rulers and finances or whatever like avoiding rules. I think period stuff is as much of a fantasy kind of genre as fantasy or sci-fi or whatever. You create a world that the majority of people who were looking at it don’t know at all and you pass it on to them as if it were another planet. That’s the kind of way I see it.

The judgment interview

Speaking of the fantasy element, it’s crazy to forget how severe the power imbalance between men and women was in the film and that is true to the story. One word, one accusation, can make a woman call a witch and you do a great job pointing out that imbalance and it’s uncomfortable to watch. Can you just talk about exploring this gender power imbalance?

By researching for this, there are a lot of books on the subject and explaining why people were accused of being a witch. Most of the time, the church was also heavily involved. They were pretty comfortable promoting the idea that everyone should be looking for witches and if they found them they should be punished for it. 500,000 women were ultimately tried, tortured and executed. This is not an exact number. It could reach a million. It is an approximate figure that has been discussed in a number of historical texts that it was a lot.

It could be because their neighbors didn’t like them, it could be because they had red hair. Maybe it was because they had a mole on their face. It could be, it could be any number of reasons or just the slightest excuse that a bunch of guys came up with and said, “Oh, she’s a witch and she’s got the cat to prove it.” They constantly live in fear. For me, it was just terrifying. These women, they couldn’t be wrong or it could potentially happen to them. Especially during the Great Plague, when people were almost encouraged to believe it was the work of the devil. They must be on the lookout. The walls have ears, the witches are over there. The devil does his job and stays on the lookout. One of the great historical oddities we discovered was that what they did was be on the prowl they were slaughtering cats by the thousands because cats were the way witches talked to the devil. They were their familiars. So they slaughtered thousands of cats, which eventually led to the rats spreading all over the place. Because rats were everywhere, the plague spread everywhere. So it was so doomed to fail.

In the movie, we see Grace being tortured, then we see her mental state deteriorate and she is not allowed to sleep. She gets beaten up, just trying to confess to him. What was your thought process in describing these scenes and showing this kind of psychosis going on?

It really has to be a degradation, or like it’s a process where she doesn’t start having visions of the devil until people start talking about it. So once people start talking about the devil and the process of things, it’s kind of going into a psyche and exploiting it that way. It was part of it, it was like she couldn’t [just] be challenged physically. She’s going to be mentally challenged. She is going to be challenged spiritually. At all levels, it is going to be set apart and has to keep it together fundamentally. It was a trip and the tortures themselves, we did a lot of research on the different types of torture we used. The ones we used in the movie were actually one of the few that could survive as most of them were lethal.

They were basically a way to execute someone as an excuse. They were witches, so we’ll say we try them out, but there’s no way out of it. So at first glance, it seems to be fair, but just not. I mean the classic example being, they used to tie them up, put them in a bag and throw them in the river. And if they were floating, if they somehow survived, it was because they were witches. They were guilty and then they would be executed, and if they drowned, then they were innocent. When you deal with that kind of logic, it’s kind of a dead end scenario.

The judgment interview

I think one of the scariest parts of the movie is the real human element. You know, we have these crowds among the witch hunters and some of them actually believe that they are doing the moral and right thing. Can you tell them that they are the ultimate villain?

That’s the thing that fanaticism is still with us today in one form or another, uh, like misogyny and everything in between. I mean, we changed the goals a bit, but they’re still there. So with these villains or what I liked about the fact that there are two different villains and they have two very different ideologies. One of them is a complete sadist and he’s just there for pain and punishment. The other believes absolutely 100% that what he is doing is right, and that is the work of God. He saves his soul, he tortures his body, but he saves his soul. And I thought it was fascinating that you got to see it from the villain’s point of view. They can’t just be cardboard cutouts and be a really good lure. It’s like her motivation is going to be as good as our hero or in this case, our heroine. That makes him really terrifying and makes him a force to be reckoned with.

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