IFC’s Welcome to Mercy, directed by Tommy Bertelsen, is a stylish, atmospheric horror that delivers lasting visuals and genuine intrigue.
Madaline, a single mother from America (Kristen Ruhlin, who also wrote the screenplay) returns to her native Latvia to visit her ill father. While in her childhood home, she is seemingly struck with stigmata and is sent to a nearby convent, where a friendly nun (Lily Newmark) tries to help Madaline understand what’s happening to her.
The visuals are Welcome to Mercy’s strongest point, and it’s that way from the start. The film immediately sets a mood with the desolate, icy landscape in rural Latvia, and the rickety old farmhouse where Madaline’s family lives. Both the family home and Mercy, the convent where Madaline ends up, feel entirely removed from the rest of the world. At no point do they see neighbouring houses or interact with townsfolk — it seems as if there aren’t any, and the world doesn’t extend beyond these tiny homes. Madaline is truly isolated.
The moody atmosphere propels you through the somewhat muddled mystery — everyone seems to know what’s going on except Madaline, and the audience isn’t given enough clues to really understand. Madaline’s stigmata-like symptoms disappear quickly when she gets to the convent, and instead she mostly hears ghostly whispers in between cryptic remarks from the nuns. One scene, featured heavily in the trailer, shows Madaline covered in blood with nuns chanting around her, but it’s a quick blip in the film. It’s not hard to want more from a scene that striking. Welcome to Mercy has plenty of creepy moments, but few genuine scares. The times it leans in to the supernatural elements are no doubt the film’s strongest.
Ruhlin does a lot of the heavy lifting as Madaline, but Newmark truly shines. She manages to convey loneliness and desperation to befriend Madaline, almost like a schoolgirl crush, in a way that doesn’t automatically give the audience red flags — it is a horror movie after all, and no one should be trusted.
Welcome to Mercy has all the necessary components of a great horror movie — solid premise, great atmosphere, memorable performances — but is merely a good one. The film lacks that little something extra that could have taken it to the next level.