J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mercy: The Lovecraftian Grandma

Stephen King’s cool “Dollar Baby” policy grants accredited student filmmakers permission to adapt any of his short stories for one dollar, provided they are only screened in classrooms and film festivals. Naturally, the quality varies widely. As a result, commercial filmmakers really need to bring their A-games when adapting King’s short fiction for an anticipated commercial release, lest they be unfavorably compared to the Dollar Babies. Unfortunately, that did not happen with Peter Cornwell’s Mercy (trailer here), a generically mediocre reworking of King’s “Gramma,” now available on DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

While Mercy seems to be losing her faculties, her family is so boring, you might forget them too. The only one she was ever really close to was her sensitive grandson George. Much to the disgust of his older brother Buddy, they have moved back to their old hill country home so their mother can care for the increasingly erratic Mercy in what are presumed to be her final days. Unfortunately, Rebecca, the military vet and single mom, is the only surviving family member up to the task. Sadly, their degenerate Uncle Lanning is constitutionally incapable of responsible behavior. However, Mercy may not be ready to give up the ghost just yet, particularly when George is around. Whether Mercy is good for George is a different question entirely.

Mercy is one of several Blumhouse titles finally getting a DVD release after spending considerable time consigned to the shelf. It’s nothing special, but you would think the combination of King and Blumhouse would have guaranteed a decent theatrical opening. Nevertheless, anyone expecting something seriously Lovecraftian will be disappointed. Granted, it is usually a mistake to show too much in horror movies, but if you are going to invoke the name of Hastur and hint at a Cthulhu-like mythos lurking out there in the hills, folks are going to want to see tentacles at some point. In fact, Mercy arguably has too many woo-woo effects, but they all revolve around George’s bed-ridden granny.

Two time Oscar nominee Shirley Knight is pretty credible playing both Mercy’s dementia and her supernatural malevolence, but this is not going to be the film to get her back into awards contention. As the brothers, Chandler Riggs and Joel Courtney are instantly forgettable. Dylan McDermott also checks in from time to time, as Jim Swann, a friend of the family whose subplot is so underdeveloped we never really know why he is in the film until a supposedly big third act reveal. Only Mark Duplass manages to give the film any appreciable energy as drunken Uncle Lanning.

There are a lot of familiar horror movie tropes uneasily shoehorned into Mercy, giving it a cobbled-together vibe. Still, one rarely finds sympathetic Christian clergy in genre films, or King’s fiction, so the kindly Pastor Gregory Luke, played with dignified gravity by Eddie Jones, helps distinguish Mercy in a good way—but it’s not nearly enough. There are just too many annoying kids and not enough Lovecraftian dread in Mercy. For King and Blumhouse completists only, Mercy is now available on DVD from Universal.

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