REVIEW: Mercy Falls (2023, dir. Ryan Hendrick)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 103 mins

UK Distributor: Magic Monkey Films

UK Release Date: 1 September 2023

WHO’S IN MERCY FALLS?

Lauren Lyle, Nicolette McKeown, James Watterson, Layla Kirk, Joe Rising, Eoin Sweeney, Gilly Gilchrist

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Ryan Hendrick (director, writer, editor), Meliá Grasska (writer), David Newman (producer), Stephen Wright (composer), John Rhodes (cinematographer)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A hiking trip in the Scottish Highlands takes a dark turn…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON MERCY FALLS?

I often pride myself in knowing about a movie’s existence well before it even comes out in cinemas, but every now and then I’m blindsided by something that pops up out of nowhere, weeks or even days before its general release. In the case of Mercy Falls, I only first heard of this movie when a trailer played in front of something else I was watching back in mid-August, and for the first thirty seconds, I legitimately thought that it was a tourism ad for visiting Scotland, since it seemed to be shot and even acted like one at times. It wasn’t until some murderous stuff started happening that I realised that this was an actual movie trailer, and not just a very unflattering tourism ad.  

I’d say that the feeling of not knowing what I was watching when that trailer first came onto the screen is the most surprising thing about Mercy Falls, an otherwise generic woodland slasher thriller with few moments of real intrigue.

The film, as you may expect, focuses on a group of friends who are preparing to hike across the Scottish Highlands to – where else? – a remote woodland cabin. Their leader, Rhona (Outlander’s Lauren Lyle), has been bequeathed said cabin where she spent a somewhat traumatic childhood, but she’s utterly clueless with a map which frustrates her hiking pals Scott (James Watterson), Heather (Layla Kirk), Donnie (Joe Rising) and Andy (Eoin Sweeney). Luckily, they happen across mysterious stranger Carla (Nicolette McKeown) who knows her way around the area and proceeds to lead them across the terrain, but when things suddenly take a gruesome turn – perpetrated by more interpersonal relationship drama than your average episode of Hollyoaks – Carla shows her deranged survivalist side, prompting the friends to make a run from their dangerous new ally, who in turn hunts them down one by one.

It’s hard to know what exactly to say about Mercy Falls that isn’t different from literally every other wood-set slasher movie in existence, because it’s the kind of film that follows this particular template down to the very last letter, and not even in a way where it’s subversive or even self-aware. Instead, it simply is a prototypical slasher movie, the kind that you’d expect to be parodied in something like Scary Movie or, more recently, The Blackening. You can predict virtually everything that is going to happen in this plot, what kind of characters we’re going to be stuck with for an hour and a half, and how they’re all going to wind up either dead or at the very least severely subdued at several points, all within minutes of its running time.

This is because the script, co-written by Meliá Grasska and the film’s director Ryan Hendrick, does very little to distinguish itself from the cat-and-mouse slasher formula that it’s sticking all too close to, nor does it go a good enough job of making you care regardless of its conventionality. It’s the kind of script that gives its very stock characters some overwhelmingly basic and occasionally unbelievable dialogue to share with one another (a few times, they will pretentiously recite quotes from Homer’s Odyssey, even though these never seem like the kind of people who are well-versed in Greek poetry), and spends time setting up some of their backstories via brief flashbacks, only to hardly see them through to a natural symbolic conclusion (the one we do get is hilariously anticlimactic). There’s also the fact that these characters often make some seriously idiotic decisions just so that they can either die or that the plot can move forward, which in and of itself makes the film less and less interesting to watch because, after numerous scenes of people going off alone or venturing outside in the dark with full awareness of a deranged and highly skilled murderer being nearby, you just don’t care about any of them anymore.

If Hendrick doesn’t exactly have it within him to write a genuinely engaging slasher, as a filmmaker he at least has some idea of how to create a suspenseful atmosphere. It’s a decently-shot film, with the picturesque cinematography highlighting the stunning remote areas of the Scottish Highlands, while deeper within the woods there is an occasional air of creepiness from how darkly lit it can be underneath these trees. The acting is also not too bad, with most of the heavy lifting going to Lauren Lyle, who gives off serious Final Girl energy at all times, and Nicolette McKeown whose underlying menace gives the actor plenty of opportunities to have fun going full Jason Voorhees (sans hockey mask, of course). That isn’t to say that there aren’t some underwhelming performances, or even some awkward editing or camera tricks, but thankfully not nearly as much as there could have been.

Mostly, though, it’s a wildly forgettable slasher that’s bogged down by its endless genericism, and lack of suspense or intrigue outside aspects of its filmmaking. I would say that I’d like to go back to not knowing anything about this film, but chances are I’ll even forget it was a thing before I do say it.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Mercy Falls is a wildly generic wood-set slasher that follows the template so closely, complete with stock characters who do endlessly dumb things, that it is hardly even worth remembering afterwards, aside from some decent cinematography and a couple of fine performances.

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