Writer-director Ryan Hendrick switches from the tenderness of Lost At Christmas to high tension and brutality with Mercy Falls, co-written by Meliá Grasska. The horror-thriller starts with Rhona (Lauren Lyle), Scott (James Watterson), Heather (Layla Kirk), Donnie (Joe Rising), and Andy (Eoin Sweeney) meeting up for a camping trip. Specifically, the group of friends is traversing the Scottish highlands to find a cabin left to Rhona.
As they’re making an impromptu hiking plan, Andy spills a drink onto Heather’s sweater. She goes to change in the restroom and meets Carla (Nicolette McKeown), who gives her a scarf to wear for the moment. Carla, an army veteran, is headed in the same general direction as Rhona and company. With her survival skills and knowledge of the terrain, Carla quickly becomes the de facto leader.
After reaching Mercy Falls, the hikers set up camp for the night. Unfortunately, things go pear-shaped when Scott discovers that Heather cheated on him with Andy. A fight ensues and ends when Andy falls, and a tree branch pierces his leg. While the friends are in shock, Carla slits the injured man’s throat. This sends Rhona, Heather, Scott, and Donnie fleeing for their lives as Carla’s instincts take over, meaning no one is safe. Can the friends with few survival skills defend themselves against this highly trained killer?
Mercy Falls asks audiences to make quite the suspension of disbelief following Andy’s demise. Rhona and Heather want to call or hike for help and turn themselves in, as it was an accident. Carla blames everyone, stating Scott made it happen. But Andy swung first, meaning Scott was just defending himself. Carla guilts Rhona and Heather as they did nothing to stop the fight. So they should get punched instead? How could anyone have foreseen such a tragic injury, much less Carla’s over-the-top reaction? It does not work at all and strains all credibility. The fact that the characters (sort of) go along with it is baffling.
“…Carla slits the injured man’s throat. This sends Rhona, Heather, Scott, and Donnie fleeing…”
With that said, the film delivers where it matters. For starters, the cast is sublime. McKeown taps into a new side of herself here. She convincingly portrays a crazed killer who knows she’s smarter than everyone else around her. Lyle matches her on-screen nemesis in meekness and vulnerability. There are flashbacks to Rhona as a child with her dad and how a specific event informs many of her actions. The actor makes this throughline grounded and intriguing. Watterson is sweet, and Kirk is a little annoying, but in an intentional way.
But the plot of Mercy Falls does quickly find its footing again. The story soon transitions into observing Rhona find inner strength, which she’s been sorely lacking until now. The question of whether she can summon it in time to defeat Carla keeps all watching on the edge of their seats. Plus, the characters are fun to spend time with and easy to root for.
Hendrick directs with flair throughout the 103-minute runtime. The fog in the woods is thick with tension and unease. Director of photography John Rhodes lenses the titular falls to maximize their beauty and danger. The cave sequences near the end provide a terrific splash of color.
Mercy Falls asks viewers to make a giant leap of logic to work fully. It makes everyone seem foolish for a brief moment. But the kills and action are brutal and intense. The cast, McKeown and Lyle especially, is giving it their all. The directing and cinematography show just how well Hendrick is honing his craft.
For more information on Mercy Falls, visit The Coven Films site.
"…McKeown taps into a new side of herself..."