DreadWorld Review: 'Almost Mercy' (2015)

We've all seen it. The titles permeate Red Box, Netflix, Amazon Prime, whatever service you use to obtain your films. We've seen small budget, independent horror films top lined by horror community "names." Then when you watch the film, those luminaries are in one series of shots, leaving you hanging for the other hour and half of the film. Whether its Danny Trejo, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, or on the ladies side Debbie Rochon or Tiffany Shepis, these folks come in for a day or two shoot their scenes and leave. The actors get paid, the producers get the "name" for the poster, the general movie going public purchases a film thinking they are going to see two of the dudes from The Devil Rejects fucking shit up, only to find Haig as a store clerk and Moseley as a bus driver with a combined 4 minutes of screen time. It's the ultimate bait and switch.

Yet, there's business behind the sleight of hand. Those "names" make it exponentially more likely the unsuspecting public will make that Red Box selection rather than choosing a film top lined by someone whose previous credits are highlighted by portraying "protester #1" on an episode of "CSI New Orleans." As a film maker the thought process is essentially: hire Kane Hodder for a day, throw his name on the box, cross your fingers enough people will purchase the film so you can make another film (hopefully with a bigger budget). Truthfully, most of these films suck. Film makers spend too much of their already too small budgets to bring in a name actor for a role that's essentially a featured extra, when they should have spent that money in other, more worthwhile places. But every once in a while, even jaded horror assholes like myself who fire up one of these "stunt casting" films gets knocked on their asses by one of these films. Almost Mercy came from out of nowhere and knocked my dick in the dirt...deep in the dirt.

Jackson and Emily are different. Like Janis Ian and her chunky friend from Mean Girls, but rather than trying to befriend a miscast Lindsey Lohan, they are far more content to keep to each other. They spend their time surviving a fake Norman Rockwell suburban hell, wishfully plotting their way out, while secretly knowing, given their circumstances, they will probably never leave South Greenwich, Rhode Island. When Jackson is pushed to the brink, he plans on making a statement and "putting the town on the map." But it's not Jackson South Greenwich really needs to fear.

Almost Mercy should not work. There are so many heavy handed platitudes, so many over used tropes, and so many boring stereotypes that the film should drown under it's "ripped from the headlines" Law and Order bullshit. But Almost Mercy does work - and it works for two reasons: its director and its star.

The film, despite all of its predictability, always feels fresh. There is some heavy stuff in Almost Mercy. Altar Boy molestation, gang rape, addiction, and systematic psychological torture all get some play during the film. Yet co-writer/director Tom DeNucci is able to balance it without making the film feel like a total bummer. He avoids that I Spit on Your Grave feeling where, yes, you are rooting for revenge, but it still feels dirty.

Like I alluded to above, the film has, dare I say, a sense of humor to it. At it's heart, Almost Mercy is a black comedy. To that end, some people will have an issue with treating subjects like the ones I listed above as flippantly as DeNucci appears to in Almost Mercy. But DeNucci doesn't haphazardly handle the difficult subject matter. Watch the scene after Emily is raped (I know spoilers - deal with it), that scene is painful. Sure, there may be a John Waters feeling to much of the film - but it is certainly absent in that scene. While some of the ugliness may be glossed over in certain situations by the films tone, DeNucci knows when to dial the levity back.

While, DeNucci does a great job of balancing the odd and the serious, it's star Danielle Guldin that makes the film work. From the second the first voice over starts, we like her. She's down to earth, likable, and certainly not the victim that we'e become accustomed to. You will see Bill Moseley and Kane Hodder on the box and while they are certainly good at what they do in the film, Guldin is the star. She is the reason to watch the film. Her performance is one of the strongest I've seen in an independent horror film in years.

Almost Mercy Trailer from Verdi Productions on Vimeo.

Almost Mercy will not be for everyone. Some will find the predictable evil nature of suburbia, or the way the film deals with certain subjects too much to find any enjoyment from the film. But those that see the film for what it is, a very, very, black comedy with some really good direction and a tremendous, almost mesmerizing,  performance from Danielle Guldin will find it one of the best films of the year. Purchase it for Kane Hodder and Bill Moseley, watch it for Tom DeNucci and Danielle Guldin.

**** and 1/2 stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always...thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."

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