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Grace (Constance Barron) is dying. That much is clear. She is laid up in a hospital bed on the second floor of her farmhouse as her husband George (Dan Ziskie) does his best to take care of her. One day, a mysterious man knocks on the front door and thrusts a medical bag into George’s hands, pleading with him to use what’s inside and end the woman’s suffering. George reluctantly takes it and slams the door in the man’s face.
We come to learn that Grace has four sons, two with George and two with her abusive ex-husband, a man who died and left a fortune in trust to Grace, meant to go to Brad (James Wolk) and Travis (Tom Lipinski), the sons of her first marriage, though George and the other two sons, Ronnie (Michael Godere) and TJ (Michael Donovan) are looking to squeeze them out. When they all come together as Grace seems near to her end, tensions surface, more so as Brad has brought along his new girlfriend Melissa (Caitlin FitzGerald) for support, to which everyone else seems outright appalled.
As the evening passes, a curious mention of something between the family is alluded too, and how whatever is in the black bag will end her pain but the decision to do so is not easy. When Melissa asks why, the response is left unheard. It’s not long after when the property comes under invasion of masked figures who attack the home, having Brad, Melissa, and Travis retreat into Grace’s room to try and hold them off. The masked men abandon their efforts to get in the room and instead head back outside where the write word ‘Mercy’ in fire on the front lawn. They stand their ground and wait while Brad, Travis, and Melissa argue over what to do next. Choices are made, actions taken, a single puzzle piece falls upon the ground and a man is shot.
When morning comes, we soon realize it is not the next day but in fact the same as the previous, played out again but now from a different perspective. This time, some gaps are filled and some questions answered, shifting everything we thought we knew about the brothers, the black bag, and even Grace.
Written and directed by Chris Sparling, Mercy plays with a number of familiar movie tropes, including home invasion and horror, but doesn’t outright commit to any single one, instead working best as a mystery as it layers one part of the story in troubling clues before presenting it again with a series of others. What we are meant to think, such as familial discontent and the moral dilemma of euthanasia at the start, are only red herrings as the film restarts and takes us in a different direction.
Where Sparling does best is in his use of silence, especially in the second half, letting long moments pass with barely a word or needless musical cue to interrupt. This is a story about unknowns, about the shadows of a mystery rather than the mystery itself, and by leaving exposition out and questions intact, the film has far more appeal. We do find answers to several questions, but these only lead to an enigma that grows more dense as we come closer to the end. We know who the masked men are and where they come from, but their purpose is less clear, their mission one of divinity it might seem, but even that is shrouded in shades of grey.
Mercy will be a conundrum for many, a film that tries to bend a few rules in a genre bound by formula. In a landscape heavily populated by masked figures in home invasion movies, it’s not easy to call this fresh, despite a solid premise and an admittedly dark ending that will turn many off though worked well for me. It’s a challenging little film, beautifully photographed and well-acted, and while it may not be the most intelligent thriller out there, it takes risks and that alone is enough be celebrated.
Director: Chris Sparling
Writer: Chris Sparling
Stars: James Wolk, Caitlin FitzGerald, Tom Lipinski
Genre: Drama, Thriller