Director: Owen Egerton
Writer: Owen Egerton
Producer: Seth Caplan, Adam Hendricks, John Lang, Greg Gilreath
Stars: Daniella Pineda, Austin Amelio, Elle LaMont, Lee Eddy, Miles Emmons, Janeane Garofalo
15 years after stabbing a friend to conjure a supernatural entity, a troubled young woman goes back to believing the urban legend might be real.
Irene Taylor Brodsky’s HBO documentary “Beware the Slenderman” (review here) covered the notorious 2014 incident known as the “Slender Man stabbing.” Believing they could become the creepypasta icon’s loyal proxies by offering a human sacrifice, two twelve-year-old girls lured an unsuspecting classmate into Wisconsin woods where they proceeded to stab her 19 times. The victim thankfully survived, although three families faced hard roads of recovery as the perpetrating pair headed toward untold years of mental institution therapy.
While not the first movie or TV show to do so, “Mercy Black” fashions its fiction from that tragic case. It follows the true crime’s base details so closely that denouncements of “too soon” have justified grounds to complain about exploitive insensitivity. Nevertheless, “Mercy Black” turns that template into a standard spookshow that’s adequate for a disposable one-and-done watch, but not much else.
As a little girl, Marina thought she found the answer to her mother’s terminal illness in her friend Rebecca’s strange story. Rebecca told Marina the imaginary urban legend of Mercy Black, an eerie entity who seeks out sad children to take away what hurts them, but only in exchange for an offering that will give Mercy flesh and blood.
Thinking they could summon Mercy to save their families, Marina and Rebecca stabbed their friend Lily and left her for dead. Luckily, Lily survived and the same thing happened to the girls as what happened to their real-life counterparts.
Following 15 years under a psychiatrist’s eye, Marina returns home as an adult to live with her sister Alice and eight-year-old nephew Bryce. Already plagued by nightmares, old ghosts continue disturbing Marina when Alice’s true crime buff boyfriend gets nosy about the stabbing. Bryce starts digging into details too, ultimately coming to believe that Mercy Black is not only real, but that she is haunting the family’s home.
When Marina starts seeing strange things again, others assure her the horrors are all in her head. Marina isn’t so certain. Someone has targeted her for terror, and that someone may be Mercy Black. One way or another, Marina will have to confront her past to uncover the truth about Mercy’s legend.
Unlike the tragedy that inspired it, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss when it comes to “Mercy Black.” Virtually everything about it is unremarkable. I don’t use that word as an insult, but as the equivalent of a “no big deal” to express that there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the movie.
“Mercy Black” doesn’t have any of the peppy personality of writer/director Owen Egerton’s previous feature “Blood Fest” (review here). Although that film is humorous horror and “Mercy Black” excludes comedy completely, “Blood Fest” still has a jazzy streak in its spirited step that gives it a distinctly discernible identity.
Here, Egerton opts for plain bagel seasoning, leaving “Mercy Black” to casually amble as a predominantly nondescript thriller. “Mercy Black” can be categorized in unexciting terms starting with ‘S’ such as subdued, straightforward, or skeletal. It’s a storytelling choice, likely influenced by a low budget, to feature a minimal number of characters and complications in the simple script. But given that low level of overall ambition, it’s a logical response for viewers to shrug shoulders and quickly move on to something more memorable.
Acting, like everything else about the movie, is average. Characters are designed to be basic, and actors respond in kind with beige performances. Janeane Garofalo’s inclusion as Marina’s psychiatrist comes across as confusing rather than inspired casting. With scant screen time, Garofalo has as little to sink her teeth into as everyone else. Known for more niche appearances, she seems oddly out of place in a routine role in a routine horror film. I’d qualify “Mercy Black’s” subgenre with another adjective in that previous sentence, except its kitchen blender ending shows that the movie can’t decide exactly how grounded, supernatural, or psychological its slow-burn suspense wishes to be.
I’d be sweating right now if I were under deadline for another outlet because I’m below the range of a typical word count yet have exhausted everything there is to say about “Mercy Black.” The film is competently put together conceptually and technically as an acceptable indie effort. It’s just very much milquetoast, best described as serviceable in every regard.
Review Score: 50