'Welcome to Mercy': Film Review

Another day, another exorcism.
11/2/2018

A single mother seeks help at a convent after experiencing symptoms of demonic possession in Tommy Bertelsen's horror film.

The country of Latvia shouldn't expect any uptick in tourism after the release of Tommy Bertelsen's horror film set and filmed there. But at least as it's depicted in Welcome to Mercy, the Northern European country provides a suitably bleak setting for this tale of a single mother who may or may not be suffering from demonic possession.

The film was scripted by Kristen Ruhlin, who also plays the lead role of Madeline. As the story begins, Madeline has returned to her native country with her young daughter Willow (Sophia Massa) after many years because her elderly father is very ill. That she's estranged from her parents becomes immediately evident from the cold reception she receives from her mother, who doesn't even want to let them stay in the house.

The old woman eventually relents, but nothing good comes of it. Madeline soon begins suffering seizures, experiencing what appears to be stigmata, and, most seriously, attacks her daughter and nearly causes her serious injury.

The next day, a visiting priest (Juris Strenga), exuding the sort of creepiness that would prevent any responsible parent from letting their son be his altar boy, counsels Madeline that the solution is for her to stay in a nearby convent and be helped by the nuns. Having apparently never seen a horror film in her life, she follows his advice and heads to the convent, which happens to be thoroughly isolated and, wouldn't you know, have extremely spotty phone service.

She soon meets the Mother Superior (Eileen Davies), who, needless to say, is hardly warm and fuzzy. In fact, most of the nuns aren't, with the exception of the recently arrived, young August (Lily Newmark, Solo: A Star Wars Story), whose interest in her seems decidedly un-nun-like. Eventually, Madeline must deal with her demons who may or may not be internal. Viewers won't be surprised to learn that an exorcism is involved, performed by a hunky young priest.

The film is stronger on atmosphere than plotting, with the spooky locations, trippy visuals and unsettling sound design adding significantly to its impact. Unfortunately, director Bertelsen relies a little too heavily on atmosphere, sacrificing pacing and clarity in the process. Similarly, Ruhlin's screenplay features more twists than it can comfortably handle, although she's certainly crafted an effective starring vehicle for herself and delivers a powerful turn in her emotionally and physically demanding role.

By now, however, the novelty of exorcisms and creepy nuns has long since expired (although apparently not at the box office, as witnessed by the recent smash hit The Nun), and, other than its exotic setting, Welcome to Mercy does precious little to revive it.

Production: EMH Consulting Group, Forma Pro Films, Global Creative
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Kristen Ruhlin, Lily Newmark, Eileen Davies, Sophia Massa
Director: Tommy Bertelsen
Screenwriter: Kristen Ruhlin
Producers: Darren Goldberg, Cary Granat, Ed Jones, Serik Kushenov, Joel Michaely, Aslbek Mussin, Igor Pronin, Yula Zyceva
Executive producer: Nick Oleksiw
Director of photography: Igor Kropotov
Production designer: Marijana Gradecak
Editor: Jordan Maltby
Composer: Michael Shuman
Costume designer: Liga Banga
Casting: Nancy Nayor, Ivannikova Svetlana

104 minutes