Monday, July 29, 2019

Have Mercy & Turn the Lights On

If Henry Lee Lucas inspired its share of '80s horror and Jeffrey Dahmer the '90s, it seems almost surprising that the 2010s haven't seen more creepypasta-inspired fare. 

Quick Plot: As an impressionable tween, Marina and her pal Rebecca fell into a Slender Man-ish partnership, murdering(?) a friend in the name of a masked scarecrow named Mercy Black. Marina spent the next fifteen years in a mental hospital under the care of sympathetic Janeane Garafolo. Now a grown woman with great eyebrows, Marina is released into the care of her older, sympathetic but slightly world-weary single mom sister Alice.

Life hasn't been great for Alice, but she's holding up well enough in her childhood home. Son Bryce is a thoughtful, pleasant enough kid whose only real trauma stems from missing his deadbeat dad. Alice's new boyfriend is a scummy true crime buff who views Marina's return as his big chance to write the kind of book that lands him on All Things Considered. His probing questions unsettle Marina, who begins to feel the presence of the monster she had long blocked out.

Has Mercy Black returned, even if she was never quite real in the first place? Bryce begins to fall under her spell as Marina desperately tries to unlock the mystery that has taken over her life. Lairs are unlocked, library books destroyed, and everybody's favorite Gen Xer has a bad time in the woods. 

Mercy Black is a Blumhouse production, and based on its quiet drop on Netflix, not one it had too much faith in. Written and directed by Owen Egerton, it was certainly never going to do Paranormal Activity or even, say, Happy Death Day numbers. It feels like the kind of small budget but handsomely produced film specifically designed to be watched on a mobile device.

The best thing Mercy Black has going for itself is its cast. Daniella Pineda is incredibly watchable, even if the math involved in her detainment seem a little messy (15 years in a hospital would mean she had plenty of experience with that crazy internet in 2004). Elle LaMont looks and feels like Pineda's sister, and their relationship--cautious but caring--is easily established by the actresses. 

Unfortunately, Egerton's script doesn't really serve them consistently. There are so many holes in the sequence of events, with large, gaping details that never add up. The film is filled with interesting characters whose motivations are never even explained, meaning the major conflict of the climax has no real emotional resonance. The fact that Mercy Black is such a short, focused story makes this even more frustrating. A horror novelist, Egerton clearly has good instincts with the genre. It's a shame that Mercy Black just isn't tight enough to let them really hit.

High Points
I'll give bonus points to any movie that names its dog after my favorite Muppet

Low Points
...even if said dog befalls a tragic fate

Also, as I skim through screenshots to find some usable images, it confirms just how literally DARK Mercy Black is, making it frustrating in that you can't actually SEE much

Lessons Learned
Changing your identity will age you a good ten years faster than your peers

When librarians have questions, they head to the internet

Psychiatric hospitals are a wonderful training resource for shaping your eyebrows

There are good things to be found in Mercy Black, but it's sadly not cohesive enough to be satisfying. Slender Man aficionados may enjoy its take on the trope, and for a 90 minute Netflix watch, it's decent enough. But perhaps its potential makes that even more frustrating.

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