The evil that men do is sometimes punished, rewarded, forgiven or gotten away with. For the recently paroled and deliciously named, John Mercy (Gary Shannon, who captures the outer persona if not the inner angst) the sweet taste of freedom gradually becomes a vile poison, making him a perfect client for The Limb Salesman (cross-reference below).
Director/writer/cinematographer Patrick Roddy has shaped a moody tale of horror that begins with much promise but can’t quite find its tempo and tone. Shooting in black-and-white reinforces much of the film’s darkness (the opening paint-peeling-prison—intercut with Montana’s lush trees and sparkling waterways—sets the thoughtful tableau beautifully). At first, the purposely out-of-tune piano’s high-register melodic wanderings alternating with a sunless ground bass seem to reinforce the monotony of Mercy’s new beginning, only to become tiresome and far too predictable before his apparent nightmare morphs into what now passes for reality. Thank goodness for Geeshie Wiley’s delightfully scratchy “Last Kind Word Blues” to enliven the bar scenes even as it reinforces Mercy’s struggle between good and evil. That, coupled with love-interest and actor wannabe Eve’s (Shelley Farrell, like her beau looks every inch the gin-downing doll but can’t get under the skin or her pickled personality) on-stage recitation/audition from Antony & Cleopatra, adds much to the moment even as these classics invite comparison to all that surrounds them—her stomp-off-in-a-huff when the temptress discovers the auditorium is as empty as their lives.
The production is well-populated with all manner of contrasting characters. Charles McNeely III as the parole officer brings a convincing fastidiousness and patient delight as he reminds his charge “You’re not free—I still own you.” Over in the alley of the damned, Josh Marcantel dispenses uppers and downers to passersby, cheered on by a covey of hookers and promised damnation by a Bible thumper who seems more at home with the heathen than in the safe confines of a sanctuary.
The passageway is traversed daily by Mercy along the way to his grunt-work on “piranha” machinery, or to down shots of club soda at the “Bar” (featuring the same bare signage as the “Bus Depot,” adding a subtle touch to the surreal atmosphere that knocks on Kafka’s door but is never permitted entry), or back to his Heartbreak Hotel digs whose sparkling linoleum floors belie its status as the dump of last resort.
What fun and terror there is comes from Julie Ann Fay’s desperate appearances as the ghost and the wonderfully evocative wolf-growls uttered at timely moments by the disenfranchised. Occasionally, Roddy appears to slip into social commentary (issues of parole for heinous offences, and “Moral Right Knows Best” percolate; the prison-bar imagery, Gideon Bible and God’s Country postcard add visual reinforcement) but those forays get drowned with the blood of the damned.
Frustratingly, Mercy doesn’t live up to its early promise to make the skin crawl and the mind think. No worries. There’s enough to admire that should lead to Roddy’s further excursions onto the big screen. JWR