Saturday, October 13, 2018

BHFF Review: Welcome to Mercy

Reporting from the Brooklyn Horror Film Fest for the next week!

Like a gender-flipped spin on The Shining, Tommy Bertelsen's Welcome to Mercy spins its horror off of a parent harming their child while under the influence. Here, instead of the metaphorical demons of Jack Torrance's alcoholism (which eventually find physical form thanks to The Overlook) we've got single-mother Madaline (Kristen Ruhlin) starting out possessed and working backwards from there. Is it the devil, or something deeper than that, that's putting not only her daughter but entire generations of women onto the path of unrighteousness?

Madaline goes home to her native Latvia after the death of her father to see a mother who didn't want her, and she finds herself in a foreign land among unfriendly faces. Especially her own mother's, the unfriendliest of all. And that's when the stigmata come. The twitching on the floor. And suddenly Madaline's flinging her little girl across the kitchen. Before you know it somebody's suggesting that isolated convent in the mountains (isn't there always an isolated convent in the mountains?), that they might be able to help...

What exorcism movies have to work against, the insurmountable climb of The Exorcist, I wouldn't wish on any horror sub-genre. Every movie to come out in that film's forty-year wake has been judged against it - so soundly did it stamp its name across every staple, from priests standing over bed-sides to holy water to unfathomable sounds coming out of innocent throats, that anybody who even takes a stab at them feels like a footnote. 

Welcome to Mercy doesn't scale the insurmountable, but it gets a pretty good view from where it stands. Its story, a series of unfolding boxes inside of boxes, revealing old secrets to inform the present tense, smartly avoids the well-trod "work up to a showdown with a demon" path. Where it works best is visually - Bertelsen has a slew of great camera tricks up his sleeve that surprise and disorient. Disorientation is key to this genre - there must be an aura of strangeness around the possession tale; the feeling that something awful has twisted its way into our dimension, something unnatural. Mercy, in its finest moments, gets that.

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