Directed and Written by Owen Egerton
Starring: Daniella Pineda, Janeane Garofalo, Elle LaMont, and more
Summary: 15 years after stabbing a friend to conjure a malevolent spirit known as Mercy Black, Marina Hess is released from psychiatric care to live with her sister Alice and her young son Bryce. But all is not as it seems as Mercy Black continues to haunt Marina and also seems to be affecting Bryce as well.
Mercy Black is the latest release from Blumhouse Productions, receiving a stealth-release on Netflix. Being that this is the only place to watch the movie for free(read: with a subscription), it felt right to give it a shot and write up a review for it.
I will spoil the movie just once, and it is to say that there is a dog and the dog doesn’t make it to the end. I know some people aren’t fans of that and I think it’s fair for you to know that going into it that while you don’t see the event itself, you do find out the result.
Now on to the review proper. Mercy Black is a bit of a mess. The beginning of the movie does a decent job setting up what’s going on. Marina is discharged from psychiatric hospital that she’s been a resident in for the last 15 years of her life and going to live with her sister. Marina doesn’t have full memory of the events surrounding the stabbing of her friend Lily, but some members of town seem to think that they do, which is illustrated with a mocked-up doll of Mercy Black being shoved through the front window of Alice’s house.
These acts, combined with Alice’s boyfriend Will, who fancies himself a true crime buff, present challenges for Marina and her new life outside of the psychiatric hospital. Will, being the “true crime buff” that he is, pesters Marina to give him the details of what happened that night. Marina, being that she doesn’t fully remember that night, rebuffs him and Will begins to take offense, insensitively broaching the subject. It’s not a kind look into what Egerton thinks of true crime fanatics, being that they’re too socially awkward or too uncaring to understand that their intrigue is nowhere near as important as the people who are still clearly suffering from the events surrounding the conspiracy. Will becomes angry with Marina, who repeatedly rebuffs his idea of a book, and grabs her inappropriately, causing Marina to push him off with the power sander that she’s wielding. As he leaves home in a huff, Will attempts to kick the dog that barks at him for yelling, solidifying his role as a bad person.
As for Bryce, Marina’s nephew is haunted by visions of Mercy Black from the night that Marina stays throughout the remainder of the movie. These dreams cause Bryce to want to know more about Mercy Black, even going so far as to enlist his school’s librarian to help him research the spirit. Once they find the imagery of Mercy Black, the librarian does little to dissuade Bryce from seeing all of the information possible on MB. Seeing these images and visions still of Mercy causes Bryce to act out, including a very shocking and horrific scene that was by far the movie’s best.
This is as far as I’m willing to go with the plot as we’re starting to get into spoiler territory. For full-spoiler thoughts on the movie, please listen to episode 139 of the Netflix ‘N Swill podcast.
As for performances, Marina, played by Daniella Pineda, is distracting. There are times where it sounds like she’s attempting a Texan accent, since the movie takes place in Texas, but other times it seems like she’s just speaking without an accent. Some consistency with how the character spoke would have gone a long way. The strongest overall performance came from Austin Amello as Will. He deftly played his role, making you slowly come to realize that while he claims to be, Will is not entirely on Marina’s side. Miles Emmons as Bryce played a very creepy kid and is probably the second-best performance in the movie. Elle LaMont is decent as Alice but nothing extraordinary, just overall solid. Janeane Garofalo has about 5 minutes of total screen time and feels like she’s just there.
The direction itself was fine, nothing too great and nothing egregiously bad, I wish Egerton would have gotten a more smooth performance out of Pineda. The cinematography is adequate outside of some beautiful establishing shots. There maybe have been more that Egerton could have done with the camera to make this movie feel special, but overall, the camera technique felt safe.
The general plot is okay but relies too much on horror tropes that we’ve seen countless times to raise tension. There’s a third act reveal that turns the entire movie on its head, and it’s poorly done. There is no reason for this information to be revealed with only 20 minutes left in the film, and it took me right out of the movie.
Overall, Mercy Black is a movie with a lot left on the table. Under-explored themes, an uneven performance from its main character, and a bad third act leave this as a disappointing watch.