John Mercy is granted parole after serving a 20-year sentence, and is promptly met with an environment of hopelessness. While John (Shannon) remains focused and silently hopeful of finding a better place, the reality around him is apathetic and in some cases openly malevolent.
John’s approach to his new life is fragile at best, and his every timid action is met with amplified results. His parole officer is a sadistic, methodical prick. The hotel clerk is an invasive pervert. Even the well-meaning drunk Eve is curious and loud past the point of John’s comfort level.
There is a very clear switch signified when John receives his first paycheck, and the dreams begin. John begins to have visions of a mysterious girl, and wakes up missing a tooth. Soon, he begins missing more and more as he begins to see her not only in dreams, but in his every waking hour. Each of these visions leads him to another vice, and another small dose of self-destruction.
John only seeks an anonymous, content life where he can simply be himself without ties to his miserable past. Everyone he encounters, through their own core nature, seeks to derail that dream.
The film is mind-numbingly slow, which serves its purpose well. The pace mirrors the monotony and hopelessness that is John Mercy’s life. The cinematography, soundtrack and dialogue are all very simple, repeated and exhausting; achieving exactly what director/writer Patrick Roddy desires.
Mercy is completely in black-and-white, with some very powerful, simplistic shots. There are several repeated visuals which would make stunning still photographs. The soundtrack does a very effective job of signifying the changes to John’s world. The script is well-crafted, with enough suitable foreshadowing and character defining portions to create a balance with the repetition of the visuals.
Gary Shannon portrays John Mercy as a man with a sole purpose, a strong desire but not an equally strong will to stay on the straight and narrow. Shelley Farrell mixes naivety with cunning to make Eve the right reflection of Mercy at any given time. Carol Anne Gayle is masterfully creepy in her brief time on screen.
Artsy used to be a four-letter word, but Mercy makes its statement without attempting to get so mind-blowingly surreal that only acid or PCP makes it worth watching. As with most art films, there is plenty of room for interpretation, and a great deal of the viewers’ entertainment will depend on how they translate or relate to the film. The parting shot alone crushes any potential “I don’t get it” objections.
In the end, Mercy amounts to half “who-done-it” and half “what-the-fuck?”, leading to a very cool mash of social commentary and artsy creepiness. Extras on the DVD include a slide show, alternate soundtrack (which, a la Blade Runner includes a voiceover track), and a behind-the-scenes look at the final night of shooting.
The film’s official site also features a short comic to accompany the film.