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Monday 23 November 2020
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‘Mercy Black’ review

Mercy Black (2019)

Director: Owen Egerton

Performers: Daniella Pineda, Austin Amelio, and Elle LaMont

Now available on Netflix, Mercy Black is a film I was looking forward to, but I ended up having some mixed feelings about it. Is it scary? Yes. Is it worth watching? That depends on what you want from it. A horror thriller based as much on childhood trauma as the line between reality and folklore, Mercy Black is scary at first but requires some suspension of disbelief toward the end. On the one hand, it tackles mental illness and the struggles of living with the stigma in a small town. It also wants to discuss the idea of faith, and whether belief can manifest into reality. The problem is that it also wants to tackle the Slenderman myth and its impact on culture – but it can’t call the monster Slenderman. The film is a lot more enjoyable if you can overlook the connection to actual real-life events.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Honestly, this movie starts out great. There’s some wooden acting in places, but I can overlook that in horror movies from minor characters. Marina (Daniella Pineda) is released from a mental institution into her sister’s care. Marina committed a crime she can’t remember in her youth and has grown up in a mental institution, so she lacks basic social and technological skills. This makes her a target for constant triggering from the now-viral sensation Mercy Black, the creature she claimed she saw a a child. Her sister’s boyfriend Will (Austin Amelio) is a true-crime aficionado and has his own motivations for convincing Marina to go on television circuits to tell her story. Amelio nails this role, at least for an audience like me who, living in the South, has too often encountered men like Will desperate for any get-rich-quick scheme. On the other hand, young Bryce (played by Miles Emmons) has motivations all over the place, and it’s not entirely clear which are his own and which are outside influences. This isn’t the actor’s fault, but the director was so eager to end with a shock that it leaves much unresolved.

The Slenderman aspect is glaring, especially if you’re at all familiar with the true crime surrounding two girls, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, who led their classmate Payton Leutner into the woods to stab her 19 times as an apparent sacrifice to the internet horror meme Slenderman. Once the film starts hinting that route, the film loses some credibility – those two girls in real life were disturbed, not cursed. Marina in this film is scared and misunderstood instead of a jealous friend who convinced her best friend to stab a rival for attention. The biggest problem is that the 12-year-old victim in Mercy Black both originally volunteered to be stabbed ritually and turns out to be the film’s villain. 

On one hand, this is pretty messed up stuff. On the other, it creates a folklore of its own much like Slenderman following the stabbing. The film then is both awkward but also necessary – we need to discuss this and the weird way our beliefs and ideas can impact the world around us, but it’s also a pretty tacky to base it on actual kids who were actually traumatized and/or incarcerated less than a decade ago. I really look forward to seeing people discuss this.

Overall, the movie itself is pretty good in terms of creepiness, but it has slow moments that don’t add up and the ending is a little ridiculous. Be ready for this when you watch it.  

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