The cream of contemporary feature-length cinema isn’t always found in theaters. These days, smaller and more niche films often implement a same-day launch, simultaneously premiering in a select-city theatrical run and on video-on-demand (VOD) services. Moreover, streaming services are now offering original films of their own. Given the dire and disposable state of the horror genre at the multiplex, these release strategies are particularly suited to reaching a wider, more appreciative audience for cinematic chills. For horror fans in a mid- to small-sized movie market such as St. Louis, online streaming and digital rental/purchase are increasingly vital means of accessing noteworthy features. What follows is a brief assessment of the major new horror (and horror-adjacent) films that have premiered on VOD within the past month.
2019 / USA / 88 min. / Dir. by Owen Egerton / Premiered online on Mar. 31, 2019
Writer-director Owen Egerton’s Mercy Black brazenly and tastelessly repurposes the real-world 2014 Slender Man stabbing for its central conceit. Unlike last year’s unrelated and jaw-droppingly inept Slender Man, however, Mercy Black is at least a functional work of cinema. Indefensibly drab and dull, but functional. By dropping the film just before April Fool’s Day with no warning, Netflix was perhaps hoping for a viral hit, but there’s little that distinguishes Mercy Black from seemingly countless ghost stories featuring creepy kids and rote jump-scares. Lead performer Marina Hess does her best to breathe some life into this tale of a former juvenile perpetrator who is struggling to re-enter society – and begins to suspect that the bogeyman she created as a child may have taken on a life of its own. There is some Candyman-adjacent potential in Mercy Black, but Egerton clings to the tiresome aesthetics and rhythms that presently dominate the genre, even as he’s chaotically cramming together ambiguous and seemingly contradictory plot twists. Rating: C- [Now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.]