The Devil's Mercy (2008)

Stephen Rea rolls out the Welcome Wagon...
just don't get your hopes up for pizza coupons.


In director Melanie Orr's creepy chiller The Devil's Mercy, like a good neighbor, Stephen Rea is there. Too bad he's made a pact with the devil to knock off tenants but then again as Rea shares on the Peace Arch Entertainment DVD's "Making-of-Featurette," "Devil worship's pretty weird but the suburbs are weirder." I think it's pretty safe to say that Rea won't be asked to be the President of his Home Owner's Association anytime soon nor will real estate agents try very hard to show the Academy Award nominated Crying Game thespian any homes located just outside major cities.

While suburbs have always had their freaky side whether it was of the Stepford variety in both the campy classic or its unfortunate remake as well as the hilarious Tom Hanks proclamation that "nobody knocks off an old man in my neighborhood and gets away with it," in the underrated 80's gem, The Burbs but this time around, it's played not for laughs but sinister chills.

It only takes a brief moment after Rea's character Tyler Grant hammers a sign into his yard with a croquet mallet for his large Connecticut home to gain the attention of two passersby who are lured onto the property by a near-accident caused by Rea's equally frightening niece (or is it daughter?) played by Hannah Lochner. Once the Winters family takes up residence on the top floor of Tyler's home, suddenly strange things begin to happen. Soon, the unsuspecting father Matt Winters (Michael Cram) quickly becomes bed-ridden by a mysterious illness, their 6-year-old son Calvin starts keeping secrets involving souls and witchcraft, and Matt's wife Beth (Deborah Valente) begins putting her writerly skills to good use, researching her new neighbor only to discover there's much more to Tyler than meets the eye.

While it won't stick with you quite the way that Stepford and Burbs did because we continually get the sense throughout that we've seen this formula done much too often, it will probably fare better as a late night premium cable B-movie. Although Orr and screenwriter James A. McLean's impressive truth-based origin involving a main character from American history makes for a solid foundation and Rea is quite good here managing to inspire distrust and unease from a brief glance.

Additionally, Rea's tense, angry work with the young Lochner is where the film really manages to frighten and intrigue, which is especially evident because our protagonists are much more weakly drawn, with the exception of Deborah Valente's astute character. Moreover, I wondered how much stronger the script would've been had the filmmakers just focused on Rea's storyline and written Valente's character into an altogether different horror film where her mystery-solving skills would've been put to much better use.

More psychologically suspenseful than genuinely horrific, despite an obligatory (yet slightly rushed) confrontation at the end which offers the perfunctory and now genre-required twist ending leaving room for a possible sequel. Yet it's a solidly executed film with some great lensing by cinematographer Joe Turner augmented by James Villeneuve's editing to add an artistic flair in some of the earliest moments, as evidenced in the bravura sequence as Rea and Lochner entice the unsuspecting Winters father and son with a real estate sign and a red ball respectively. Thus, ultimately, The Devil's Mercy is a film that should appeal to devotees of the genre or those who-- like Rea-- just get the heebie jeebies when it comes to suburbia.

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