Netflix and Blumhouse dropped a surprise on us on Sunday in the form of Mercy Black, a horror film written and directed by Blood Fest’s Owen Egerton. With no warning, the film premiered on Netflix in early hours of March 31. I love when Netflix gives a sursie, but are all sursies worth the sudden excitement?
in Mercy Black, a specter is a being created by the minds of three young girls in a rural town. Each girl is experiencing something that is out of their control, and they hope that by creating the specter, Mercy Black, all of those problems will be whisked away. But just like the character that Mercy is based upon, the Slender Man, it’s not an easy task to bring her to life. There must be blood, there must be rituals, and there must be a volunteered sacrifice amongst them.
Their attempt to bring Mercy to life is brutal, as it lands one of the three girls in death, and lands our lead character, Marina (Daniella Pineda), in an institution to pay for what transpired during the ritual. We follow an adult Marina as she is released from the institution years later into the care of her older sister, Alice (Elle LaMont). Marina attempts to get back to a normal life with her sister and her nephew, Bryce (Miles Emmons) but as spectral legends do, Mercy Black begins to creep back up into Marina’s life.
We aren’t privy to exactly what happened that led Marina to the institution right off the bat. We piece it together along with Marinaas she struggles to cope with life outside of the institution. A familiar trope, but it works in the first half of the film. We get flashes of the past in combination of dreams & reminders, “Is she real, or is she not?” set pieces, and jump scares. Bryce and Marina see glimpses of Mercy Black in dark stairwells and air vents but no one will believe them. Mercy Black may not be that supernatural entity we first believed her to be. She may be nothing more than a figment of their imagination, but she might also be hiding in the shadows, waiting for Marina and Bryce‘s fear/believe to give her strength.
Wondering which way the story is going to take us truly works for the first two acts of the film. What really sells it are the performances given by our three leads. Danielle Pineda (Marina) holds the film together with a sense of love for her family. She gives Marina a subtable balance between dealing with her past and hoping for a better future. Miles Emmons (Bryce) is the token kid that is dealing with the possible paranormal. While not reaching creepy kid heights, he plays it very innocent and young. When the scary stuff really starts, he brings us in with his fear but the show stealer for me was Elle LaMont (Alice). In her character, we get a tough yet sweet mother and sister who will protect her house at any cost. Janeane Garofalo (Dr. Ward) also has a small part in the film that I wish could have been more fleshed out because when isn’t Janeane Garofalo great?
“There must be blood, there must be rituals, and there must be a volunteered sacrifice…”
We’re given a wonderful and subtly creepy world, but overall maybe a little to ambiguous for me personally. Is Mercy Black real, or is she a figment of Marina’s imagination? Is Marina the culprit of Mercy Black’s creepy shenanigans? We get vague answers to these questions. We also get a little twist thrown in that worked initially but without spoiling the particulars, I don’t think it meshed well with the rest of the film.
Mercy Black is a truly horrifying threat but for something expected to cause mayhem, she comes and goes with a whimper. If I can relate Mercy Black to any character from a prior film, it would be Darkness Falls’ Matilda Dixon (aka The Tooth Fairy). There is a ton of potential and backstory, but the end result just doesn’t satisfy. Matilda does have one up on Mercy in the physical presentation of the character, though. Matilda was a domineering, threatening presence while Mercy – whenever she is shown – is less of that. Maybe appropriate though, given that her flimsy physicality was created by children. I was hoping that I was walking into a film with a female spectre that we would talk about for years to come- which may still be a possibility as more people watch the film. I obviously have my own opinion about Mercy Black, and I’d love to hear yours.
Visually, Egerton crafted a film that is easy on the eyes. The opening scene’s overhead shot combined with the lullaby crafted for Mercy brought me in instantly. The tone of the film captured it’s rural setting, something I’m very familiar with, and (most importantly) the jump scares were effective. As as the case with most stories, I wish there was time to expand upon the reasons why the three girls created Mercy. It’s hinted at very subtly, but not enough to give us an understanding as to why these girls would do such things at such a young age. It would have also benefited the film if we’d gotten a little more story on the other two girls who helped create Mercy.
So, was this surprise release from Blumhouse and Netflix worth the excitement? It seems like I’m on a seesaw with the film. There are moments that are great and I felt on top of the world, but then it’d teeter down very slowly and unsurely until I hit bottom, just barely missing the rubber wheel to stick the landing.