Brief synopsis: When Marina (Daniella Pineda) is reluctantly discharged from a psychiatric hospital after fifteens years, she goes to stay with her sister, Alice (Elle LaMont) and her family; partner, Will (Austin Amelio) and young son, Bryce (Miles Emmons).
Along with another girl, Rebecca (Sophianna Smith – young version), Marina (Jamy Lentz – young version) was convicted of a heinous crime, the assault of a young girl, Lilly (Elke Boucher-Depew – young version). Now grown up, Marina has horrible nightmares about the night of the crime and is haunted by visions.
Is it any good?: it’s not great. Pineda is a little too actor-y for my liking and the horror is more threat than actual but it ramps up nicely and there is genuine tension. The story is pure horror classic hokum, with the antagonist being an entity that everyone in town – it’s always a small town – believes is a myth. There is a nice twist but the story as a whole does not hang together well enough.
Spoiler territory: After fifteen years in a psychiatric hospital, Marina Hess is told by her doctor, Dr Ward (Janeane Garofalo) that she feels she is well enough to leave the facility. Marina is not so sure but Dr Ward reassures her that she is ready for the outside world. Her sister, Alice, comes and picks her up from the hospital.
She takes Marina back to her place where she lives with her son, Bryce. Later, on her own in the bathroom, Marina is haunted by images from her past. She has a nightmare whilst sleeping and wakes up to find Bryce standing next to her bed. Having heard her screaming in the night, he comes and offers her his night light.
The next evening, Alice’s boyfriend, Will, has joined them for dinner. When Alice takes Bryce up to bed, Will asks Marina about her infamous past. Marina does not want to talk about it. Will tells her that her story is notorious, how she and her friend, Rebecca, took another girl, Lilly, and stabbed her seven times because they were told to by Mercy Black. Marina insists she does not want to speak of it.
Will persists, telling her he is a true crime fan and how her crime had spanned a slew of copycat incidents. As Marina lies in her bed she remembers bits of the incident, how she and Rebecca dragged Lilly through there woods. She hears a noise and goes downstairs to check. A dummy, with a scarecrow mask, smashes into the front door window.
The next day at school, a curious Bryce asks the librarian, Mrs Bellows (Lee Eddy) about Mercy Black. Mrs Bellows tells him she does not know about it but they can look on the internet. Back at the house, Marina, having watched a woodworking video, is sanding the stairs. She is surprised by Will. He is still eager to talk to her about the Mercy Black episode.
He tells her that they can make a lot of money if she does talk shows and helps him with a book. Marina is not interested but Will keeps on about the potential of making money. Marina, who had returned to sanding the stairs, accidentally sands his knuckles off. Alice returns to find Will screaming abuse at Marina. She kicks him off of her property.
Later that evening, Alice finds her dog dead in the yard and is convinced Will is behind it. She goes to see him. Bryce asks Marina about Mercy Black. She tells him that Mercy Black was made up by her friend Rebecca, who convinced her that if they made a sacrifice to Mercy, it would save her mother’s life as her mother was terminally sick at the time.
Bryce shows her the many incidents connected to Mercy Black on the internet and asks her how can she not be real. Alice, now at Will’s home, sees he has a wall of information on Marina. He is obsessed with making money off of her story. They argue and Alice leaves. Alone in his home, Will hears noises and thinks some of his friends are messing with him. He gets killed.
Bryce’s young imagination seems to be running wild and he is convinced that he is being spoken to by Mercy Black. Marina remembers the incident and how Rebecca cut off one of an unconscious Lily’s fingers as an offering to Mercy. The next day, Marina is determined to get to the bottom of her mysterious past.
She goes to see Rebecca (Jesse Tilton). Rebecca had also been incarcerated. Time had not been kind to Rebecca and she sits by a window, catatonic from her time in the hospital. Her mother (Rochelle Robinson) is happy to see Marina and takes her to see her traumatised daughter. Rebecca is unresponsive as Marina speaks to her but when Marina begins to look around the bedroom, Rebecca grabs her ankle and screams uncontrollably.
Bryce continues to act strangely. When his friend, Sam (Dylan Gage) comes over to play with him he tricks him into putting a noose around his neck and nearly kills him. Alice calls Dr Ward to ask about Marina. Marina continues to look into her past and finds the underground area that the girls were in all those years before.
She finds enough evidence to convince herself that Mercy Black was a figment of their imaginations. Alice gets a call asking her to come to the police station. Will is dead. She goes to see Bryce and he is convinced that he is in contact with Mercy Black. His bedroom door slams and Alice falls over the bannister.
Marina returns home to see Alice being taken away by an ambulance. Bryce asks if she will sit with him whilst he falls asleep. When Marina wakes up in the night, Bryce has left his bed. Marina gets attacked and knocked to the ground.
Mrs Bellows turns up at the house and says to Bryce she is going to help him. She has a finger missing. It is Lily. She takes Bryce to the underground area. Dr Ward, who had looked into Lily’s past comes to the house and tells Marina that Lily is back in town. They both head to the underground place.
Marina goes down to look for Bryce. She tells Dr Ward to call the police. Lily comes up behind the doctor and slits her throat. Lilly goes down into the underground place and confronts Marina. Marina tells Bryce to run and fights with Lily. Lily stabs her in the stomach and goes after Bryce.
A wounded Marina gets up and is attacked by the spectre of Mercy Black but battles back defeating it. Lilly catches up with Bryce and waits for Marina to catch them. Marina tackles her to the ground and is strangling her but realises that is what Lily wants. She stops strangling her. Bryce stabs Lily through the eye, killing her. The spectre of Mercy Black looms large over him. The end.
Mercy Black is kind of bad, then moderately good, then awful. Written and directed by Owen Egerton, the film does not seem to be sure what it wants to be. The idea of it being mostly a figment of Pineda’s Marina’s imagination worked quite well and served the story even as Eddy’s Lilly is revealed as still being alive. Unfortunately, he did not leave it there. He had to complicate things.
Amelio’s Will was a story strand that went nowhere and was just an extra body to kill off which, in a horror film, is understandable but not only was it a most unsatisfactory demise, it did not push the story forward at all.
Young actor Miles Emmon is very good as Bryce and convincing as the semi-possessed child and had Egerton leaned more into that storyline this could have been a really good horror. Instead, he decided to go with the ‘mad’ Lily bollocks, her wanting to fulfil her destiny of being killed at the hand of Marina in order to satisfy the bloodlust of Mercy Black.
LaMont is great as Alice but she too just runs around doing random things and eventually getting, literally, knocked out of the picture so as to allow for the very poor conclusion. The Lily storyline was working but by deciding to make Mercy Black real, Egerton completely negates the story’s power, whilst simultaneously wrecking all credibility the film had built up.
I will say the film is ably directed and most of the jump scares work well. The tension is good and it even overcomes Pineda’s weak central performance. It is all utterly destroyed by the muddled story. Mercy Black, at eighty-eight minutes long, is not a long film and, for the most part, trundles along nicely. It is a shame that Mercy Black has so much going on because it had all the elements of a passable horror film. Unfortunately, it is a fussy mess. Give it a miss.