Mercy is the latest film from immensely successful production co. Blumhouse, although this one sort of slipped under the radar. The film is based on a Stephen King story (“Gramma” collected in Skeleton Crew) which makes it even more surprising that the movie had virtually no advertising or press. Even more surprising, given those circumstances, is that the movie actually isn’t terrible. It’s a smaller film for Blumhouse, but it works because it’s a smaller film overall, yet doesn’t feel smaller. It’s still a professionally put together feature, but the story of Mercy is more confined.
The original story by King dealt with a little boy forced to stay with his senile old grandmother while his mother went to visit his older brother in the hospital. The boy, George, is terrified of Gramma. Everyone in the family is terrified of Gramma. She’s prone to violent episodes and the mother is nervous about leaving the boy alone with her, but it will only be for a few hours so she figures it will be fine. Of course, Gramma dies while George is supposed to be looking after her, and it’s scary enough in terms with a kid having to take the responsibility of handling a death. But then Gramma wakes up and starts calling for him.
The movie takes a few liberties, naturally, as the short story is more of an extended scene than anything else. The core of the story is still intact, but most everything else is different. This time, the mother and the son are the only two people who actually like their grandmother (the titular Mercy) while everyone else in the family is terrified of her. This time, George is much older (and is played by Chandler Riggs, best known as Carl on The Walking Dead) which takes some of the inherent scare factor out, but he does a good job with the material he is given. George goes with his family to take Mercy out of the retirement home and move her back into her house where they can begin to take care of her. There are some alarming incidents right off the bat, mostly Mercy talking and mumbling things that sound vaguely like Satanic prayers. These aren’t too much of a concern, apparently, as long as Gramma’s still taking her meds. At his uncle’s behest, George waters down her medicine and that’s when Gramma starts to get her strength back. And naturally everyone suffers for it.
The film is very professionally made. The cinematography is competent – it makes the most of the scenery. And the visual style is very low-key, which actually works well. The musical score is also strong but at times it’s not mixed as well as it should have been and overtakes the dialogue. This is especially harmful in scenes like the one with George visiting a priest to talk about his grandmother, which is a pivotal scene in the picture.
Chandler Riggs gives a strong performance as George, impressively taking the weight of the lead role and carrying the film for an actor his age. He is young, but the talent his there, and this could be the start of a promising career if he takes more roles that play to his strengths and reserved nature. One of the more puzzling elements of the film is a female counterpart for George, around his age, who is a figment of his imagination (and George is aware of this.) There’s very little explanation for this aspect of his character until a few moments at the end of the film, but overall it is widely underdeveloped.
Mark Duplass (of Safety Not Guaranteed) nearly steals the whole film as Uncle Lanning, who seems to know the most about Mercy’s nature. Dylan McDermott also does a fine job, but his character is not nearly as developed.
Shirley Knight should be the most memorable performance of the entire film as the titular character. While she does a good job with the material, the other characters talking about Gramma wind up being scarier than Gramma herself. The most shocking moments with her character come through flashbacks and while the climax of the film is fine entertainment, it definitely could have been more shocking.
Peter Cornwell’s directing keeps all of the elements as balanced as they can be, though. The tone of the film is great, as is the visual style. There’s a sense of dread that hangs over the entire film, and in that respect it feels like classic King, but at the same time Mercy is smart enough to branch off in its own direction. It may not be the next Blumhouse hit, but it’s at least worth a watch.
WICKED RATING: 6/10 [usr 6]
Director(s): Peter Cornwell
Writer(s): Matt Greenberg
Stars: Chandler Riggs, Shirley Knight, Frances O’Connor
Release: Now available on VOD
Studio/ Production Co: Blumhouse
Length: 79 Minutes