The Catholic faith has always seemed scary to me. I grew up in a Protestant church— which was scary enough— but the traditional outfits, the constant feelings of guilt, and the bloody statues of martyred saints make Catholicism appear so much darker. Welcome to Mercy dives deep into the conventions of a religious horror, while warping what we believe to be reality.
“Welcome to Mercy dives deep into the conventions of a religious horror, while warping what we believe to be reality.”
Single mother Madaline (played by writer Kristen Ruhlin) and her daughter Willow travel to Skulte, Latvia to meet with her estranged parents. Her father Frank is very ill and on his deathbed. He wrote to Madaline, hoping to see her one last time. Her mother Alyona, however, isn’t pleased to see her so unexpectedly. She forbids Madaline from immediately seeing her father, but begrudgingly lets her stay the night.
The next morning, Madaline mysteriously wakes up outside in the snow, unsure what she experienced overnight was real or just a terrible nightmare. Alyona is very concerned, but Madaline assures she’s fine. She’s finally allowed to enter her father’s room in the presence of a priest. What was expected to be a gratifying occasion goes horribly wrong. The priest’s prayer triggers something within Madeline. She didn’t merely catch the flu while she out in the cold, it’s something much worse. Symptoms include floating up and flying across the room, violent shaking, screaming in an ancient language, and wounds ripping open in her hands and feet. Diagnosis: possession.
The priest suggests that Madaline seeks help at the nearby convent (or in Shakespearean terms, “Get thee to a nunnery!”) She agrees to go for the sake of protecting her daughter, who was badly bruised during her episode. The Sisters of Mercy believe that what Madaline experienced was, in fact, a blessing. They claim the wounds are signs of stigmata, not from a demon.
Madaline has a hard time adjusting at the convent. The daily prayer services are all in Latin. Rumors are circulating among the sisters about Madaline’s condition. The phone lines are often down, so her attempts to call her daughter are useless. And there’s no way to escape from the remote location.
“Welcome to Mercy is obscured in its own secrets.”
Welcome to Mercy is obscured in its own secrets. The different personalities of the nuns often clash, some sympathizing with Madaline, others wishing to destroy her. Lily Newmark stands out as a young, soft-natured nun who provides some relief from the dreary setting. Eileen Davies as Mother Superior will keep the audience guessing about her intentions in handling Madaline’s condition.
To overcome what has come over her, Madaline must journey through the depths of her mind to uncover her deeply repressed childhood trauma. During her time at Mercy, she will learn about her own parents’ history and the circumstances of their abandoning her.
The story burns slowly, where every look and word is questioned. The moments of pure horror come in flashes, only to have Madaline wake up after, completely disoriented. Past and present become blurred as the truth unfolds. The final twist reveals the true nature of the demon that will surprisingly warm your heart after undergoing so much dread. The cliff-hanger ending unfortunately left me infuriated.
Religious horror requires more than a belief in the supernatural. In order for the strange phenomenon of Welcome to Mercy to work, it requires a willingness to believe in the specific sect of Christianity. I’d prefer to not to bother with the explanations, and simply enjoy how stunning visuals of its execution.
Welcome to Mercy had its world premiere on October 13th at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.