For a while back in the day “nunsploitation” was a fairly crowded genre. It started with lurid rip-offs of Ken Russel’s controversial THE DEVILS. Then it turned into full on horror behind the convent walls films like THE OTHER HELL and oddities like THE KILLER NUN. They were especially popular in Catholic countries for their added shock value. Now, apart from the occasional film like THE NUN, the genre is pretty much dead. Tommy Bertelsen’s WELCOME TO MERCY aims to change that.
Madeline (Kristen Ruhlin who also wrote the script) returns to her family’s home in Latvia to see her dying father. As if a less than welcoming reception for her and her daughter Willow (Sophia Massa, but with the voice of Eva Ariel Binder GREY’S ANATOMY) wasn’t bad enough she soon develops what appears to be stigmata. Saying this is a blessing, (the film was originally entitled Beatus which means blessing), Father Joseph (Juris Strenga) sends her off to a convent on a nearby island.
But the sisters at this convent don’t worship the God of Abraham anymore. They worship something far more sinister. Which makes it very doubtful her stigmata is any kind of a blessing.
WELCOME TO MERCY was shot on location in Latvia, and that gives it an unfamiliar look and feel. This evokes a certain amount of creepiness right from the start. This intensifies once the presence turns up and tosses Madeline down a well. But when things should go into overdrive with her arrival at the convent they instead go onto autopilot. It doesn’t get boring, but it doesn’t really pick up the pace either.
I shouldn’t have been to surprised by this I suppose. I had read that “faith-based” film company Pure Flix had picked up worldwide rights to the film, (IFC Midnight has them for the US), so I shouldn’t have expected anything daring or provocative. I’m sure to some the film’s big reveal will seem shocking, but to most, it will be no big deal. It’s something that happens enough that possession should be a frequent occurrence if that was all it took.Bertelsen works up some stunning imagery and genuinely unsettling sequences. Unfortunately, the script never lets the film live up to its potential. Instead, there are just flashes of excellence in a sea of good enough. Which is a shame because this had the potential to be something special. As it stands it’s worth watching, but not going out of the way to see.
WELCOME TO MERCY played the Brooklyn Horror Film festival ahead of its release by IFC Midnight to theatres and VOD on November 2nd.