Color, 2006, 85m. / Directed by Patrick Roddy / Starring Gary Shannon, Shelly Farrell, Charles McNeely III, Julie Ann Fay
Unearthed (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD2.0

Forever doomed to be confused with the sleazy Ellen Barkin thriller of the same name, this fascinating little black and white indie is a horror film more in spirit than execution, with artistic ambitions far more commendable than your average splatter effort. The nightmarish journey begins when convict John Mercy (Shannon) is released after spending twenty-five years in jail (exactly why isn't unveiled until later, of course), only to find that life outside is hardly less stressful. Beseiged by an unhinged parole officer and stuck in both a drill-pressing job and a dwelling lorded over by bullies, he finds solace only in a local watering hole where he meets Eve (Farrell), a friendly blonde aspiring actress. Mercy dreams of escaping to Montana, a photo of whose landscape is his one constant souvenir since jail, but when pieces of his body literally start falling apart, he realizes that fate is indeed out to get him.

A queasy and undeniably effective mixture of Cronenbergian body horror and good old-fashioned David Lynch surrealism, Mercy is one of the more assured debuts in recent memory, with Patrick Roddy guiding the literally decomposing protagonist through an unforgettable, noir-tinged world every bit as oppressive as those in such '50s paranoia classics as Dementia. Horror fans get a bit to chew on thanks to a few careful dollops of bloodshed and some pretty squishy bits of body violence (the eyeball bit especially), while Shannon never loses sight of the essential, beaten-down humanity in his character. Bear in mind that this is essentially targeted as an art film, so anyone looking for a bare-bones scarefest won't be too nourished; instead, this is more for fans of fare like The Last Winter and The Reflecting Skin that offer some substance and style with their moments of skin-crawling nastiness.

Unearthed continues its fascinating line of genre-bending releases here in high style, with Mercy receiving a solid anamoprhic transfer that captures the delicate shadows and gray scales of the cinematography even if its limited by the budget-constraining limitations of the production itself. Don't expect a slick knockout on the level of such B&W transfers as Ed Wood, but it's perfectly fine for what it is. The Dolby stereo soundtrack does right by the extremely effective sound mix, which uses lots of ambient noises and nerve-jangling bits of period blues music to really get under your skin. (The director previoulsy issued a private edition from a greatly inferior screener source, so even if you've stumbled across an older copy lying around, this is considerably better.) Extras include a "movie comic book" companion to the film, a trailer, and a quick six-minute featurette covering only the very basics of how the film was made. The rest of the disc is filled out with very contrasting trailers for other Unearthed releases ranging from Red Room 2 to Frankenhooker, so it's probably safe to say that Mercy falls somewhere in between the audiences for those two films.

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