Thursday, October 18, 2007

Boston Fantastic Film Festival: ­Mercy

Brattle Theater creative director Ned Hinkle chose Mercy for the Sunday Eye-Opener program that the Brattle and Chlotrudis Society co-present in part because he felt it was something of a failure, but that the way it failed and what it was striving for might make for interesting discussion. It's not a bad idea to occasionally screen what you know is a bad film in a series like that, although I think he might have been surprised by how much we as a group did not like it.

One thing that I found interesting, considering how part of Chlotrudis's charter is about watching films actively, is how much people seemed to have trouble articulating why they didn't like Mercy. A couple got in good lines about how little they liked the film, but specific details why were a little harder to come by.

Which is interesting, when you compare it to the popular perceptions of the art-film-loving crowd - that they/we enjoy tearing things down but never have anything good to say. This screening was just one example of how the opposite frequently seems to be true more often.

Mercy

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 October 2007 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Fantastic Film Festival / Sunday Eye-Opener)

When Martin Landau was promoting Ed Wood, he was asked a question about what it was like to do a movie about the worst director in history. He corrected the interviewer, saying that the worst thing a movie could be is boring, and Wood never made a boring movie. I haven't seen nearly enough of Mercy director Patrick Roddy's work to say whether or not it's typical, but he has certainly made at least one boring movie.

Gary Shannon plays the title character, John Mercy, out of prison on parole after twenty-five years and an apparently changed man. His parole officer (Charles McNeely III) doesn't really believe in John's reformation, and expects to see him back in jail soon. He's given a nondescript job and a nondescript hotel room, told that any screw-ups there or drug or alcohol use or missed appointments will send him back to jail. He meets Eve (Shelley Farrell), a nice-enough seeming girl, while having a club soda at the local bar, but initially keeps his distance. He doesn't really know what to make of the outside world.

Once the situation is set up, Roddy and company spend a good chunk of time demonstrating just how isolating and repetitive John's life is, and it's one of those situations where the filmmaker maybe does his job a little too well. There's a montage that seems to take forever of John sleeping in his spartan hotel room, going to work, operating a machine press, walking back through an alleyway filled with prostitutes and a street preacher, siting at the bar, and repeat, although it probably only takes ten minutes or so in reality. The audience gets the point, sure enough, but there's going to be a fair-sized chunk of that audience who wind up just checking out completely, even when things do start moving.

In fact, the first time John appeared on screen with his hand bandaged, I cursed myself for having apparently fallen asleep and missed the part of the movie where, finally, something happened. That was not the case, though - these are mysterious off-screen injuries. That's where the horror/suspense part of the movie comes in - is it Eve who injured him? The ghost, presumably of the girl whom he killed all those years ago, that he sometimes sees though no-one else does? Someone or something else? Trouble is, even if you're still interested, the movie doesn't really seem to be. There's never a very strong feeling of suspense or even mounting dread. Roddy does do a pretty good job going for the gross-out later, though.

To give Roddy his due, he's got some skills with the camera. He's going for a noir feel, and the crisp black-and-white photography is quite nice. He's also done a fine job with locations and production design to evoke the feel of the era. His artsier choices - dubbing animal noises over the poor/homeless people in the street, using almost no extras in other scenes - may work better for others than it did for me. Garry Shannon gives a pretty nice understated performance as John, although Shelley Farrell isn't so solid as Eve (as the screening's host mentioned in the discussion, it takes a better actress to play a bad actress well).

The idea is that Mercy is only superficially a thriller, though underneath it's a film about isolation and alienation. Unfortunately, the surface isn't very thrilling, and what's underneath isn't so clever as it tries to be.

1 comment:

Christine L. said...

I like reading your blog. Northampton's theatre is releasing a film called "Delirious". Would you be able to do a review of that film?

Thanks :)