Starring Constance Barron, Michael Donovan, James Wolk, Caitlin FitzGerald, Tom Lipinski
Directed by Chris Sparling
Screened at FrightFest 2016
The home invasion genre receives a dose of morality play in Chris Sparling’s Mercy, wherein a group of disparate brothers and half-brothers come together at the parental homestead to discuss division of their terminally ill mother’s trust fund.
The situation is fraught with tension, lumped immediately on the viewer’s shoulders in the opening moments by the household father’s receipt of a medical bag, given to him by a local doctor who urges him to make use of its contents and “ease the suffering” of his nearly comatose wife.
Stuffing the bag in the bin, the man waits patiently for his half-sons Brad (Wolk) and Travis (Lipinski) to arrive and join he and his direct sons – Ronnie (Godere) and TJ (Donovan) – so that the discussions may begin.
Bringing along his girlfriend, Melissa (FitzGerald), Brad finds himself caught up in that most ugly of situations – the dysfunctional family feud. Father would obviously prefer that all of the money go to his own sons – so that it may be put back into the farm and homestead – and, obviously, they would prefer that also. This leaves Brad and Travis at barely-contained loggerheads with their brutish brothers, and Melissa stuck in the crossfire.
During the night, however, the situation worsens as a gang of masked assailants attack the house – burning the message “Mercy” into the ground outside as Brad and Travis frantically struggle to protect their mother.
Who are the men in masks? Do TJ and Ronnie have anything to do with this? What are the goals of the assailants when it comes to the terminally ill woman in the upstairs bedroom?
This central premise is an extremely compelling one, Sparling managing both this and his character work to masterful effect when it comes to Mercy’s first half. The ongoing tension plants a solid hook throughout the first act – seeding the constant expectation of a thrown sucker punch or outright familial brawl at any moment, and the background presence of the medical bag is a classically effective ‘open loop’ mechanism.
When the masked gang appear, the questions continue to pile up – just what is actually going on here? Soon, bodies begin to drop and Mercy’s rather melancholy pacing starts to pick up… only to be stopped dead in its tracks by a sudden reset and change of perspective.
Half way through, the sequence of events repeats itself again – this time from the perspective of the masked gang. Conceptually, it works… but in practice, it kills the pacing stone dead whilst offering little to truly differentiate it from what came before. A little sneak peek here, the position of a hidden assailant there – it’s clever, yes, but unnecessary and tedious and leaves Mercy feeling like a short tale artificially stretched beyond its limits.
Thankfully, after revving up for a second time the film manages to come back around with a knockout revelation and finale. Just what is in that bag will be revealed, and the overall truth is unexpectedly damning for all involved.
Naturalistic performances from the cast – including the conflicted masked men – lend Mercy a sense of gravitas that works well in tandem with the moral ambiguity explored by its story. It’s also very well shot, delivering crisp visuals and solid night-time/pitch black cinematography.
A taut thriller over all, Mercy is at its best when it’s revelling in the boiling point atmosphere within this fractured family unit. Sadly, the pace-killing repetition does its best to drain interest – but given the gripping mystery at the core, stick it through and you’ll find a satisfying experience in the end.