If there’s one thing we’re all about around these parts, it’s shining a light on low-budget independent horror that deserves a wider audience, and as far as low budgets go, well — they don’t get much lower than the $150,000 that director/co-writer (along with Bernard Dolan) Tom DeNucci shelled out for his 2015 mini-masterpiece Almost Mercy. The flick certainly looks like it cost a good deal more than that, though, so credit to our favorite new genre wunderkind for knowing how to make a little go a long way.
You know what’s doubly impressive, though? The fact that it’s a fairly safe wager that a good chunk of that $150,000 went to fan-favorite actors Bill Moseley and Kane Hodder (who play a pair of adult “authority figures” — Moseley being a preacher and Hodder a coach), both of whom probably showed up for no more than a day or two each to get their scenes “in the can.” So the actual working budget DeNucci had to play with after paying those stars is probably somewhere closer to $75,000-$100,000.
Still, like I said, he does wonders with it. Our two principal characters here are a pair of burgeoning young sociopaths named Emily (played by Danielle Guldin) and Jackson (Jesse Dufault), who have both endured horrific abuse of the physical and psychological variety over the course of their short lives and have every reason to be the ticking time-bombs they so obviously are. You’re going to be scared shitless by what these kids are capable of, yet completely sympathetic to their plight, as well, thanks to a very smart script and two absolutely “spot-on” performances. The eye of the needle that DeNucci has to thread here is very tiny indeed, given that material this challenging could easily go off the rails, but damn if he and his cast don’t pull it off.
One word of warning — the shocking subject matter that forms the beating heart of this story is pretty much front-and-center from word “go,” so if you’re uncomfortable with horror that is all too immediate, you might want to give Almost Mercy a pass. Yes, there is plenty of over-the-top blood, gore, and assorted viscera to be had here, but by and large the most stomach-churning stuff on display comes in the form of situations that we know to be way too real, and way too tragic. You’ve been warned.
That’s probably about as specific as I should get here, given that I don’t want to dull the impact of the body-blows that DeNucci delivers, so at this point I’ll zero in — briefly — on my only real beef with the flick, which is that it really does lay it on pretty thick at times. I’m not sure what other way there would be to play it, mind you, but there probably are methods by which to communicate the excruciating evil our protagonists have been subjected to without, I dunno, “piling on.” In a weird way it reminds me of the main gripe that I had with Precious, which is that pretty much every single goddamn bad thing in the world happens to that film’s central character with no real let-up whatsoever. I get that there are way too many people for whom that sort of life is a sad reality, and at least DeNucci lets his characters get some payback, but when you lay it on a little too thick it can start to feel less like a story and more like a laundry-list of atrocities being dumped on some hapless individuals. I’m not saying that Almost Mercy veers completely into that territory, but it does come awfully close on a few occasions.
Still, even that minor quibble doesn’t detract from the sock-loaded-with-ball-bearings beating this movie dishes out time and again. Almost Mercy is a brutally honest and even more brutally powerful slice of celluloid horror, and I would urge you to either catch it n Netflix, or pick it up on DVD from Screen Media, ASAP. If you’re in the mood for something as altogether unforgettable as it is altogether unpleasant, you really can’t do much better than this.