Marina Hess (Daniella Pineda) is released from a psychiatric hospital 15 years after she and her friend Rebecca committed terrible acts. Still children at the time they stabbed a fellow friend as an offering to Mercy Black, a mysterious entity that would take all their pain away, but only if they offered up a sacrifice first. Marina is released into the care of her sister whose True Crime loving skeeve of a boyfriend is delighted to see her. Marina is horrified to discover that during the course of her incarceration Mercy Black has become a massive urban legend with sites dedicated to the phenomena and copy cat attacks being carried out in her name. What’s worse is that Bryce, Marina’s young nephew has become obsessed with Mercy convinced that she is living in their house. But when bad things start to happen Marina must face up to the possibility that perhaps Mercy Black was real all along.
This latest offering from Blumhouse dropped unexpectedly, with little fanfare on US Netflix last weekend. The film is inspired by the notorious case of the two 12 year olds in Wisconsin who lured a friend into the words and then stabbed her repeatedly as an offering to Slender Man – the urban legend created in the forums of the site Something Awful.
Directed by Owen Egerton from his own script this is an enjoyably creepy suspense film that for the majority of its run time has interesting things to say about trauma, grief, mental heath, adolescent crime and rehabilitation. It’s a little flatly directed and its focus purely on Marina and family robs the story of context. We are told Mercy is now a huge viral hit but we don’t really see anything beyond a list of google results. Also we’re not shown how the town respond to Marina’s return to a place where she did such horrible things. Luckily the acting and the interesting narrative make up for the somewhat flat visuals and insular scope of the piece. Pineda is very endearing as Marina. It’s a difficult feat to make an audience like you given the horrors her character committed as a child but this nerve wracked, innocent trauma victim is impossible to view as a monster. Marina is so determined to own her psychiatric diagnosis and committed to her recovery. She’s absolutely determined to make a life for herself, asking her sister about the wanted ads and being blown away by the wonders of the internet. It’s also really nice to see Janeane Garofalo (whose film career looked so strong in the late 90’s and then just spluttered out) on screen again in a cameo role as her doctor. Miles Emmons is also impressively unsettling as the Mercy Black obsessed Bryce who looks sets to repeat the cycle of trauma and violence.
I appreciated the twisty turns of the narrative and while it is too reliant on jump scares there are some genuinely scary moments in the last 20 minutes. But the film’s need to create a franchise and an iconic villain means it falters at the final hurdle. Yes Mercy looks great with her red painted paper mache mask, cloak of feathers and needle spiked gloved hands. But a villain needs more than a cool design. The ending is utterly generic for a film that looked like it was going somewhere more interesting. The popularity of Reddit’s No Sleep forums and the increase in people using social media like Twitter and Instagram as a new mechanism for sharing shaggy dog stories show that we all still enjoy a good scare. The insane recent Momo Challenge stories (where one sole random woman posting a completely incorrect post on Facebook warning of a video being sent to children which contained a terrifying central character sparked absolute nationwide hysteria) and the enduring fascination with Slender Man are ripe for discussion. What is it about these tales that speaks to young, often very damaged, adults? Why do so many buy into old fashioned campfire stories? I think there is a great film to be made about our fascination with creepy viral stories but unfortunately this isn’t that film. There are threads of a better film here but Egerton opts for the generic shock ending. Still, a solid enough suspense/horror.
Rating: 3/5 (given most on the strength of Pienda’s performance)