The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Welcome to Mercy

Welcome to Mercy joins a long line of Catholic-themed chillers. The problem with such movies is that there's a relatively finite number of elements that can be used to generate scares, so many of them feel rather similar. This one, directed by Tommy Bertelsen, finds a more original path, using those religious elements to tell a story that's ultimately as much about personal demons as literal ones.

Kristen Ruhlin (who also penned the screenplay) stars as Madaline, a single mother who returns to her native land of Latvia, young daughter in tow, to visit the gravely ill father she has long been estranged from. A clash with her mother takes place immediately upon arriving. That's nothing compared to another significant event. Madaline starts developing what appears to be the stigmata -- the same wounds Christ received on the cross. During this episode, she inexplicably attacks her little girl.

For everyone's safety, she agrees to go to a remote convent, where a group of nuns will help her. Most of them aren't exactly welcoming, though. The only one with whom she makes a connection is August (Lily Newmark). August seems to have some clues as to what has caused Madaline's bizarre stigmatic experience. Perhaps obviously, nothing is what it seems, and something sinister is lurking.

Welcome to Mercy is, at heart, a story of mothers and daughters that uses the horror genre to come at the issue in a bold way. Madaline agrees to stay at the convent because she fears passing on her problem to her daughter. She discovers, over the course of the story, that she has important connections with her own mom that she never knew about. We see these two women one way at the beginning, and a completely different way at the end. We redefine our view of them, just as they redefine their views of each other.

Bertelsen usually finds just the right balance between substance and horror, making sure the scarier elements support the story's theme. When they come, they're executed with style. Madaline's initial incident is seen only in brief glimpses -- her levitating, a wound opening in her flesh, etc. -- with quick shots of black separating them. The effect is as though we're seeing it through blinks because it's too terrifying to stare directly at. Scenes in the monastery, meanwhile, create an eerie mood that signals something is wrong beneath the quiet, orderly way of life carried out there.

The most interesting aspect of Welcome to Mercy can't really be mentioned without spoiling the big twist. What can safely be said is that the plot involves something that is a genuine problem within the Catholic Church. (No, not that one.) The film takes that idea and imagines evil springing from it, giving the story a thoughtful quality to match its spooky one.

In fact, the idea is so compelling that you can't help but wish even more had been done with it, or at least that Welcome to Mercy would have clued us in before the finale, so that the meaning could be digested to its fullest extent. On a similar note, there are times when the fright factor could have been amped up a bit. This is a good movie that might have been great had it been willing to push everything to the limit.

Regardless, plenty here works, and it's all anchored by a captivating performance from Kristen Ruhlin. Welcome to Mercy is, on the whole, an intelligent and unsettling picture that sucks you in.

( out of four)

Welcome to Mercy is unrated. but contains sequences of violence and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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