Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mercy (2006)

Mercy, a black and white feature film from director/writer Patrick Roddy, takes a very avant-garde approach to the horror film. Its decayed and stark urban setting makes it feel very film noir, while it’s pacing, slowly unfolding story and almost surreal imagery make it feel more like an avant-garde art film rather than a horror film. Let me put it this way, Mercy is a surreal film with a film noir twist and a sharp horror edge.

John Mercy (Gary Shannon) is released from a 25 year stint in prison. His assigned parole office tells him where he’ll live, where he’ll work, and, most importantly, what he is NOT allowed to do. No weapons, no drugs, no alcohol, no visitors to his shabby hotel room and so on. Though John is out of prison, he is not a free man. His parole officer makes a point of telling him, “I still own you.” John’s room at the hotel he’ll be living at even looks like a jail cell – stark and small. His job at a factory is just as dreary and repetitive. It seems that everyone is against him, from his parole officer to the hotel manager. Even the pimps, drug dealers, addicts, hookers and Bible-thumping preacher that live on the streets of his run-down neighborhood seem out to get him. His only repose comes from a postcard that reads “God’s Country,” with a picture of the Montana wilderness on it. John longs for the serenity and freedom of the country that he knows is impossible for him to have. Nonetheless, John keeps on trucking and believes he has paid his dues for past mistakes. He just wants to start over and put the past behind him.

His days are repetitive as he adheres to his state-prescribed routine – wake up, go to work, come home, daydream about wide open spaces and fresh air, go to the bar and repeat.

He meets Eve at the empty bar close to his hotel. She’s a blond aspiring actress and they begin meeting regularly at the bar. They soon begin a relationship, but not before strange things start happening to John. He begins having visions and nightmares of a woman with a slit throat. This woman begins haunting him, day in and day out. He also begins seeing his last name carved into the strangest places – behind the dresser in his hotel room, on a gravestone and on a wall. One day, he wakes up to find himself missing a tooth. His torment doesn’t end there though, as he begins mysteriously losing more and more body parts. First, a bloody mouth with a missing tooth, then a missing pinky finger, then an eyeball…Is John crazy? Is something from his past coming back to seek revenge? Or is his new love, Eve, the one to blame for everything?

Technically, this film is beautifully shot. The stark black and white it is shot in gives John’s world a dark, sinister feel. Director Patrick Roddy certainly excels at crafting fine shots, with every frame being nearly perfect throughout the film. The austere shots evoke a sense of isolation, loneliness and a pervading sadness. Most of the film is dialogue-free, with a haunting score to set the eerie and sad mood of the picture.

The acting by Gary Shannon as John Mercy is what really stands out in this film, though. His eyes carry a sad, far-away look, and that one look speaks volumes more than dialogue ever could. Kudos must go to director Roddy for finding such an amazing actor to play the broken John.

While Mercy is an interesting, beautifully bleak and brilliantly acted film, it still suffers from dragging on a little too long. The scenes of John’s repetitive life are there for a reason, but get downright boring for the viewer the bazillionth time we see them. Art film junkies and film students who are used to slow pacing and symbolic scenes will no doubt appreciate the film, but I don’t think many horror fans will have the patience to see this one through to the end.

If you enjoy surreal films with a film noir twist and a slight horror edge, I recommend you check out Mercy. If you can’t stand subtlety or a film with a slow pace, though, I recommend you skip it. Either way, Mercy is an interesting film that will most definitely find a cult audience.

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