Director: Peter Cornwell
Writers: Matt Greenberg (Screenplay), Stephen King (Short Story)
Starring: Chandler Riggs, Dylan McDermott, Frances O’Connor, Mark Duplass, Shirley Knight
Staying up late with a newborn gives me an incentive to find something to do. One night this week, I was perusing the Horror section of Netflix. I hoped to find something besides the endless slew of Z-movie creature features along the lines of “Bipolar Asian Zombie Midget Strippers From Outer Space…Part 3.” When I moused over a film called Mercy, I noticed that it starred Chandler Riggs of The Walking Dead fame. Being a huge TWD fan (along with I think most of the world) I was immediately intrigued. I knew nothing of this film. I hadn’t seen any coverage of it, not even on dedicated horror sites like this one. When the opening credits informed me that it was based on a short story by Stephen King (“Gramma.” Published in the Skeleton Crew anthology.), I was even more intrigued.
With the holiday season approaching, horror fans could easily delight themselves with this film. It’s actually a quirky dysfunctional family comedy wrapped up in a horror package. There is a black gallows humor-type tone to the story and the dialogue. Bring your dark sense of humor with you and you will no doubt be happy with what this movie has to offer. Shirley Knight plays the doting, but otherworldly grandmother Mercy. Her character is just as eccentric as she is endearing. Although as the film progresses, her eccentricity becomes more disturbing. Frances O’Connor plays Rebecca, Mercy’s daughter and mother of George (Chandler Riggs) and Buddy (Joel Courtney). Rebecca is the driven, overachieving firstborn who left the family home at 18 and joined the army. Mark Duplass portrays Uncle Lanning, a crude and foul-mouthed alcoholic. His moments with his nephews provide much of the dark comic relief I mentioned earlier. He provides a jilted, cutting, sarcastic perspective on much of the family’s backstory.
The banter and insults between Rebecca, Uncle Lanning, and Mercy are sometimes painful to laugh at. But they are funny because they are personable. We all have odd encounters with family and that’s what makes this one seem so real.
The scenery, cinematography and music are superb. Wherever the location of the shoot, it is green, hilly, and remote to the point of madness. I don’t know if the crew built this set or found it, but the house in which the film is set is like something out of Tim Burton’s LSD-induced nightmare. The trees are all dead; their branches contorted like witchy fingers. A grey haze floats over the landscape throughout the film, making it seem like something out of a dream. The chromatic contrast between the emerald hills and the stark bleakness of the clouds adds to the gloom of the setting. Absent the plot, the look and sound of the film are creepy.
I haven’t read the source material, so I don’t know how well the film follows the King short story. As a side note, King fans should look for a nod to his other works on a sign outside a retirement home in this film. But I’m not one of those that demands that the movie be exactly like the book. This film really does a lot with its 79 minute runtime. The plot flows smoothly and because it’s so short; no scene is misused. The film doesn’t really shift into horror mode until the final act, but there is plenty of foreshadowing of the nature of the family’s dark secrets prior to that. Gorehounds and special effects gurus should enjoy the film’s more horrific scenes (particularly those involving an ax).
I only had 2 real complaints about this film. One being its brevity. I really liked the family’s backstory and their interactions. I would like to have seen more of that. Also, there is one particular use of some shoddy CGI near the very end of the film. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it could have been more creative than it was. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.
Mercy was a film I liked very much. I recommend it for fans of Stephen King’s work, or films based on his fiction. Also, I suggest it for those looking for something a little different and offbeat. If you like oddball family comedies along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine, The Silver Linings Playbook, or The Way Way Back you could enjoy this movie.
I give Mercy an 8 out of 10.
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