Mercy, Mercy . . . ALMOST MERCY (2015)

It looks like I’ve found my first guilty pleasure flick of 2015. I notice that I haven’t written much about movies that have caused me to have this kind of reaction (for whatever reason). So this is where it starts. In fact, I got so much pleasure out of my guilt at liking writer-director Tom DiNucci‘s “Almost Mercy” that it’s caused me to add a new category for my blog posts.

Why do I call this film a “guilty pleasure”? Its story about a pair of sociopathic young serial killers who massacre the people whom they hate in their hometown sounds like it would be controversial and in bad taste (given all the mass shootings in the U.S. over the past few years) at best and obvious and trite at worst. The fact that it uses elements of dark comedy also seems risky, again given the sensitive subject matter.

In the end, though, it all works out, helped along by a clever (if not surprising) plot twist (aided by the choice to use voice-over narration) and strong performances by the two lead actors, Danielle Guldin and Jesse Dufault, who had . .. . er . . . interesting parts (to say the least) with which to work. So I’m happy I didn’t hit the “fast forward” or “stop” buttons during the first act when I watched the film on Netflix.

ALMOST MERCY: Story Summary

In “Almost Mercy,” Guldin and Dufault are Emily and Jackson, two social outcasts who meet and bond over a dying bird during recess in elementary school. Due to relentless abuse (physical, sexual, and psychological), they become radicalized in their hatred for their abusers and become like sociopathic twins. By the time they reach the end of high school, one decides to plan a Columbine-style shooting at the local high school, while the other decides drown the rage in drugs and sex. However, their hometown won’t stop hurting them, even when they are young adults, which pushes them towards deadly action. Who does the killing (and which of them proves to be the “weaker twin”) is the only choice that they are allowed to make.

ALMOST MERCY: Commentary

Pros: On the filmmaking side, “Almost Mercy” is impressive. Shot with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, its cinematography shows what skilled indie filmmakers can do with HD video technology. The editing is flawless. In particular, the montage over which the opening credits run is technically very good. Thematically, it helps to set the viewer up to expect a certain kind of movie — an expectation that the film later undermines. The musical score, which features original music by B. Dolan and Roz and the Ricecakes, is killer.

On the story and acting side, the tie-in with Providence lore involving early American vampires makes the plot much stronger and anchors the main theme of the film: the soul-sucking vampirism of abuse from both peers and adults that kids like Emily and Jackson are forced to endure. Along this line, I appreciated the little ironies sprinkled throughout the film, such as the “Stop Bullying” banner in the school cafeteria. My strongest reason for liking this film, however, is Danielle Guldin, who gives a very strong performance that is full of sarcasm, rage, and (ultimately) psychopathic insanity, but still manages to remain sympathetic to the viewer.

Cons: Most of the “vampires” that Emily and Jackson hate are shallow, cardboard-cutout characters based on comic stereotypes. Notable exceptions are Coach Elwood (Kane Hodder, who played Jason Voorhees in the “Friday the 13th” films) and Jackson’s father (Eric Nyenhuis), a supporting role that is a creepy take on the very real slide into despair and self-destruction that can overtake those who become disabled. Still, the film would have had more dramatic power if the forces that drive Emily and Jackson to kill were more realistic and believable. Of course, this would have undermined the dark comedy of the story, perhaps making it too dark for viewers to bear.

Summary: Mercy, mercy — I enjoyed this film despite myself. I must note that this is another impressive indie film from the Providence, Rhode Island metro area, which seems to be producing breakout indie filmmakers at a record pace. A shout-out goes to Christopher Zisi of Zisi Emporium for B Movies for making me aware of this movie through his review.

I gave “Almost Mercy” 6 out of 10 stars on IMDb. Agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments below!