A deathbed-drama turns into a home-invasion thriller, and dark secrets are revealed -- all to little effect -- in the clumsy and not-quite- worthwhile "Mercy."
The plot involves four brothers who convene upon the family homestead as their mother nears death. The patriarch fathered only two of the boys. The other two are children from the dying woman's previous marriage; their father died under mysterious circumstances, leaving her a sizeable sum of money. There's a rift between both pairs of half-brothers, a rift which is aggravated by the living patriarch, who wishes to keep the inheritance to himself and his biological children.
The drama plays-out with quiet tension, leaving us with a few too many questions -- like: The four of them have been provided with what appears to be a DIY euthanasia-kit by a local doctor. It's established that they all believe their mother is suffering. And yet, they unanimously object to the use of euthanasia. It seems this may stem from religious belief. And yet, the way they suspiciously eye one another about it, and the way the DIY kit keeps getting thrown away and then "significantly" re-appearing, it seems like all isn't what it appears to be.
Well, and it's not, quite frankly. There are a few twists to this tale. The first is a home-invasion, which happens quite abruptly and changes the feel of the film. The second is the reveal of the identity of the invaders, which is more surprising than I had guessed. The third concerns the true nature of that euthanasia kit.
Ultimately, having seen the full scope of the plot, I can see what someone may have seen in this material. It's a crafty setup. But it's terribly underserved by both the writing and the execution.
A better version of this film would have had sharper dialogue and more closely-observed characters. The four brothers presented by this film are fairly generic guys; each is given a defining trait or two, but no meaningful dialogue is exchanged between them, other than whatever is necessary to advance the plot. A better film would have traced the deep rift between these siblings; it might have referenced a specific event in the past which touched them all in different ways; it might have said something about the nature of familial division. Instead, we're given four brothers who talk like crooks getting ready to pull a heist, each one suspicious of the others. We're given no insight into their personal lives.
A better version of this film would also have played a bit more with the religious themes. There is a definite ironic comparison to be made between the dad's sternness, his presumed moralistic idealism, and the kind of faith which becomes part of the film's final act.
A better film would also have made those final-act twists work better. These twists should be quite shocking -- but as delivered by this film, they just leave us feeling a little puzzled and unsatisfied. We need to feel, more strongly, the ironic nature of what happens at the end in the mother's room. A better film might have done this by setting-up certain signifiers earlier in the film, certain things which might have raised questions or doubts, so that when the final act pulls these sudden reversals, we can better appreciate what's happening and it doesn't feel so... well, kind of arbitrary.
A better film would also have utilized the cinematography and the editing better. "Mercy" isn't exactly an ugly film, but it's a film without a strong sense of visual direction. This is a story which involves things both spoken and unspoken, secrets, and misdirection. Some clever camera-work and thoughtful editing could have helped to tell the story, could have "said" the things that the characters themselves aren't saying. Instead, "Mercy" gives us the flat, affectless, somewhat-shaky look which has become the hallmark of the generic, low- budget home-invasion thriller.
Overall, it's not great film. It's barely a good one. There were certainly some promising elements here, but those are quite underserved by this film's thoughtless, generic execution.