★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Say it ain’t so! A real life ghost story that just might be about real life GHOSTS! Not only is this a solid little flick with a gaggle of ghostly misdirection, it’s also a film that features THE Janeane Garofalo. Sadly, while Ms. Garofalo isn’t in the film too much, her absence is made up by lots and lots of strange and ghoulish apparitions — or not.
Mercy Black is a well constructed 2019 film directed Owen Egerton (Blood Fest) that features a deep bench of supporting actors, and a really solid performance Daniella Pineda (Marina Hess). The film unfolds with a superb piece of exposition that explains why Marina is in a nuthouse, why Garofalo is her sympathetic counselor, and why 15 years earlier Marina and her pal set out in the to woods to pay murderous homage to a fictitious spirit named Mercy Black. Like all good legends (urban and otherwise), Mercy Black takes on a life of its own and infects future generations with a disposition towards the dastardly. The unique quality surrounding Mercy Black is that the film is actually developed around the characters that committed the murder. It’s not, as so many teen ghost flicks are these days, a cohort of teens reacting to some vague legend of yor, but, in this case, we’re dealt the teens that are forced to confront their ominous secret.
The legend of Mercy Black involves a caring spirit that visits children in despair and points out to the kiddies that if they’re will to make a little sacrifice, ol’ Mercy can help them in their time of need. Turns out Marina’s mom was in the hospital, so her best pal concocted a plan to drag one of the lesser homies out the woods, smack her on the noggin, and give Mercy her taste of blood. Marina takes the bait and the butchery goes down.
Marina, now a 20-something young lady, is eventually released in to the custody of her sister Alice (Elle LaMont) and her son Bryce (Miles Emmons). Alice is decidedly protective of her sister and the freaky legend that’s followed her in to popular culture. Over the years, Mercy Black has taken on a Slenderman-like following complete with copycats, look-i-loos, and other paranormal oddities in the ether. Upon Marina’s first night back in society Alice immediately introduces her to her boyfriend Will (Austin Emilio). Will believably and in a non-threatening manner discloses that he knows a thing or two Mercy Black and he’s very aware of Marina’s role in story. He too indicates that he intends to be respectful of Marina’s privacy and allow her to slowly reintegrate in to society.
As Marina begins her reentry the spooks start to come out. Doors mysteriously opening and closing. Wispers in the air. Even angry townsfolk who are nonplussed about the idea of murderous young girl living among them. Marina works dillegently to go about her business and create a constitution of normalcy for herself, but each step is met with increasing peculiarity. Alice’s son Bryce at the tutelage of a local librarian, begins to research the Mercy Black mythos. But Brycce is not the only one with a passing fancy for Mercy Black. Alice’s new boyfriend too has a deep interest in the legend that slowly manifests itself in to self-concocted book deals and television appearances about the true story behind Mercy Black.
As the ghastly tensions rise Marina is forced to unpack the deeply held and deeply repressed memories and grief about the night when her friend died. Her research plays out with an interesting juxtaposition between the possibility of the Mercy Black legend being true, her psychosis having an unfortunate grasp on her understanding of reality, and everyone around her participating in a ghoulish plot. Marina eventually does get to the bottom of the mystery of Mercy Black, but not before ample amounts of blood are shed and the darker side of urban legends are exposed.
Above all, Mercy Black is thoughtful approach to the now-formulaic ghost story. The characters are interesting and genuine, the story moves quickly and plausibly, and the ghosts are left to your imagination. Director Owen Egerton expertly stays clear of clumsy exposition and gives the viewer the room to get spooked and wonder whether Mercy Black was as real as some thought she was.
Mercy Black is TV-14 and currently streaming on Netflix