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Welcome to Mercy (Movie Review)

Welcome to Mercy (Movie Review)
6 10

PLOT: When a single mother (Kristen Ruhlin) is stricken with violent Stigmatic wounds, she turns to a local nun (Eileen Davies) and priest (Juris Strenga) at a secluded convent to understand the wickedness that lies before her.

REVIEW: I hadn’t heard a word, seen an ad, watched a clip, or consumed even a scintilla of intel about WELCOME TO MERCY before going in cold to watch it. And icily staid I stayed, as this well made, frigid and mildly frightening affair from sophomore director Tommy Bertselsen (FEED) is never able to hike its frostbitten temperature quite enough to allow one to warm up to the material and fully enjoy the scald of its brilliant boiling-point. That is, the means don’t quite justify the ends. Written by impressive feature first-timer and shiny star of the film, Kristen Ruhlin, the piously charged chiller has a lot going for it, namely it’s harsh, bleak and bitter milieu, stark cinematography and synchronous sound-design, exquisite female-laden performances, and twisty take on the all-too-familiar stigmatic horror template. Alas, the movie falls victim to its own ponderous pacing, torpid energy, lack of levity, unconvincing scares, vexing time jumps, and worse of all, too much divested interest by the time the cleverly redemptive finale strikes down. Welcome to just enough mercy!

The story commences when Madaline (Ruhlin), a harried single mother of young daughter Willow (Sophia Massa), decides to visit her childhood home in Latvia to look after her ailing father. Upon braving the frosty wintry weather to reach a remote cottage in the snowbound woods, the two receive an even icier welcome from Madaline’s estranged mother, who hardly lets her own family through the door. A slight familial thaw ensues, but soon Madaline suffers a violent bout of self-mutilation akin to wounds of the stigmata. Worse yet, during a blackout seizure, she accidentally assaults Willow to the tune of a swollen purple face. In desperate need of restraint, Madaline awakens to find herself hand-strapped to a bed and priest named Father Joseph (Strenga) beside her. The priest promises to offer the girl salvation from whatever is plaguing her, so long as she agrees to attend the Sisters of Mercy convent in an even deeper wooded Latvian outpost. With the major threat of losing her daughter as an alternative, Madaline reluctantly agrees.

When she arrives at the creepily cavernous convent mansion, Madaline meets Mother Superior (Davies) and her harem of stern and mirthless novitiates. This evil-warding environment is just as sinister as the supernatural forces they supposedly oppose – the shaded, chilly, sterile interiors and howling background wind make for a portentous ambience that Bertelsen rightly revels in throughout. DP Igor Kropotov (FEED, BAD HURT) and soundman Verners Biters do a splendid job of elegantly capturing the ominous lightning crackles, foggy exteriors, and unforgiving Latvian landscape in a way that instantly sets a mood, traps you in it, and rarely if ever gives you a moment to defrost. The technical craftsmanship of WELCOME TO MERCY is its undoubted strong suits, even if the chilliness becomes a bit too much of a crutch, with too little an amount of blood-boiling action to adequately balance it out. When Mother Superior tries to impress upon Madaline that the wounds she suffers comes from her own traumatic past. “Old wounds can create new ones,” the overly-austere priestess spouts. This puts Madaline into vertiginous psychological tailspin where she begins experiencing flashbacks to her time as a little girl, which, as they begin to increase in the second half of the film, begin to blur the lines of cogency.

By the time the film showcases its second best attribute, its winding third-act reveal, we’ve almost become too disinterested to care much about it. This due to a languid and meandering midsection of the film that stunts its momentum, with inaction that lingers around for too long and at too measured a clip, inertly waiting to spring the duplicitous denouement. Thankfully the performances hold just enough attention to endure the protracted slog, particular that of Ruhlin as Madaline and Lily Newmark as August, Madaline’s only real friend in the convent. Ruhlin does a wonderful job of depicting an inherently troubled character, without indicating precisely the true nature of her being. Newmark stands out as a demure and caring novitiate with a sordid secret she keeps, a secret that, once unearthed, upends her softer qualities in lieu of something far more cutting. But again, as we await the story to gain momentum, acting alone can’t atone for the lack of genuine scares. In this regard, it’s probably best to view the movie as a drama with horrific overtones rather than a horror with dramatic undertones. If viewed from this prism, perhaps the middling scares will be more excusable.

Because the truth is, for a movie with such a low-budget, scant word of mouth and no marketing resources, WELCOME TO MERCY is a handsome and well executed production. The brutal and bitter winter setting, lush cinematography and rich sound FX, the female-driven turns, and inspired twist on the stigmata horror story is where the movie abjectly excels. Unfortunately the movie only does just enough to keep one engaged, but never enough to climb out of the dulling doldrums and transcend its toward greatness. One thing is for certain however, and that is we should all keep an eye on the names Kristen Ruhlin and Tommy Bertelsen with a keen excitement for what they attempt next, ideally in another joint effort.

Source: AITH

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