MERCY FALLS *** UK 2023 Dir: Ryan Hendrick. 103 mins
I would suggest we have a new splinter group in the genre called Trauma Thriller Horror. These films which I think the film or works that do not contain supernatural influences fit one of those being the survivalist film Ryan Hendrick’s Mercy Falls (2023). Emerging tropes are usually a group of people placed in an out-of-the-way place such as a rave party on an island in the superb Austrian film Party Hard Die Young (2018) or the romantic getaway in the gruesome Eden Lake (2008). The people are stalked by one of their own or an unknown person or persons they happen to stumble upon. One person has an epiphany moment and becomes a variation on the ‘Final Girl.’
Mercy Falls (2023) touches all these signposts on the trail (literally) to fashion a taunt, plausible and oddly fascinating thriller in the woods. Shot wonderfully in rural Scotland, even with the nice touch of the local colour of an unofficial pub band playing accompaniment at a local in a section one gets eased into this story of the people on a hike to a cabin at Mercy Falls.
The film opens oddly with a moment of trauma in the woods with a younger Rhona witnessing her father kill an injured horse that she deeply loved. Animal harm for me is a controversial issue in films or books. Frankly for a book, no matter what the cost I will immediately bin the work and for a film I will turn it off, bin the disk or erase it. This moment was handled with dignity of sorts and was necessary to the plot of the story. All the people on the trip with the older Rhona (Lauren Lyle) have trauma in their lives. Friends ranging from the playful ‘lager lad’ Andy (Eoin Sweeney), the thoughtful Scott (James Watterson), the hedonistic Heather (Layla Kirk) and the tag-along conscientious Donnie (Joe Rising).
Add to this group hitcher Carla (Nicolette McKeown) who enters the group after being ignored on the side of the road previously while thumbing a ride. Carla meets them all at a rural local and convinces them that she is resourceful and can lead them to their cabin in the woods. However, simmering sexual jealousy rises when they lose their bearings and combat veteran Carla takes matters into her own hands.
In a shattering moment of jealousy gone wrong and overreaction, blood is shed, and the people are united in a terrible story that will lead to prison or worse. In a turn to William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies, Carla who herself is traumatized by military action becomes their salvation and their enemy.
The film becomes a battle of wits to survive and is not without some basic woodcraft errors. Solo potty trips and long stops in open areas without preparation while being pursued are usually not a good thing to do. The camera makes lovely use of the green glens, waterfalls, the rituals of woodcraft in some cases and the battles. The characters emerge slightly one-dimensional in the fact of their morals, hedonism, and past making the film a throwback to the ideas present in the slashers of the seventies and eighties that drinking and sexual behaviour of any means in punishable by death.
Mercy Falls (2023) works only so far in that the people in the film are sincere and likeable and the situation that develops is entirely plausible which makes it frightening. Lauren is trying to reconcile poor parental treatment, yet you wonder if there is a clear verdict at the end, especially for some of the others in the party. Perhaps mercy does fall a long way to the bottom.
Review by Terry Sherwood
MERCY FALLS is out now on Amazon Prime Video in the UK