There was a good deal to like in Mercy, touted as being adapted from Stephen King’s short story Gramma, but the pieces didn’t quite fit together in a way that made for a satisfying film. Its great strengths were the performances and the short running time; there was a really good movie in there somewhere, but it failed to coalesce. There will be spoilers here.
- Acting: Chandler Riggs did an excellent job as George, and the lack of a marshal’s hat on his head didn’t detract from his performance. He had some difficult things to do, and did them all well. Shirley Knight as Mercy was appropriately creepy when necessary, but rather bland at other times. The only other standout was Mark Duplass as Uncle Lanning, and we didn’t see him very much; he used his comedic skills to great effect here.
- Supporting Roles: The other characters were entirely unnecessary and did nothing to advance the plot. Dylan McDermott was a waste of time (I’m getting the impression that people like to put him in TV and films so that he can be a name in a list of credits). They gave George’s brother Buddy nothing to do; his thing about wanting to be a chef provided one vaguely amusing moment with sushi, but that was it. The mom wasn’t there enough, and when she was, she couldn’t be depended on.
- Themes: Other than the supernatural themes, there were some elements to the story that were thought-provoking. Dealing with a parent who’s too old to take care of herself was touched on, but not fleshed out very much. There were two aspects of parental abuse brought up: Mercy’s abuse of her own children and George’s mom’s abuse of George and Buddy. It’s a fine point, but I think that it was a form of child abuse to uproot your two non-adult children and make them care for an elderly grandparent who’s not only delusional, but dangerous (at one point Mercy slashed Buddy’s arm open with a letter opener). I don’t know where Mom’s head was, but she obviously didn’t have her own children’s best interests at heart.
- I Hastur Go Now: The Lovecraftian promise of Hastur, mentioned early on, didn’t pan out at the end with the movie’s climax. The monster that came out of Gramma looked more like Swamp Thing than a demon, though I did appreciate the illustration that included the Yellow Sign (blink and you’ll miss it). The Weeping Book was also pretty neat; a kind of poor man’s Necronomicon, if you will.
- Thrills: There were a few genuinely shocking and/or horrifying moments in the film: what happens to Buddy after they throw the Weeping Book into the wood chipper, Mercy going bananas with the hypodermic, the last phone call with George’s aunt. It’s only a shame that there weren’t more moments like it.
- Ghost Girl: The ghost girl was entirely unnecessary and clouded an already murky plot. George’s apparent psychic/supernatural abilities didn’t help him to any great degree, and having him see his grandmother’s excised spirit here and there was neither creepy nor poignant. She should’ve been dropped like Dylan McDermott.
- Narration: Also unnecessary was George’s narration. Such things are usually put into a movie because the writer wants to tell you something rather than show it to you, but in this case it just felt extraneous. If you want us to know that you and your grandmother had a great relationship before she started to die and get possessed by the spirit of a Great Old One, perhaps you should show more scenes of you two spending time together.
3 stars out of 5. You should watch it on Netflix if you have less than 90 minutes to burn and want to see the kid from The Walking Dead in something other than a horror TV show.