MERCY CHRISTMAS (2017)
Director: Ryan Nelson
Writers: Beth Levy Nelson, Ryan Nelson
Stars: Steven Hubbell, Cole Gleason, David Rupprecht, Casey O’Keefe, Whitney Nielsen, Dakota Shepard, Gwen Van Dam, D.J. Hale, Ryan Boyd, Joseph Keane
Poor Michael Briskett (STEVEN HUBBELL in a career-defining debut). The Christmas-loving office ‘schlub’ is continually put-upon by his good-looking bully of a boss, Andy Robillard, (COLE GLEASON) Being the asshole that he is, who would be surprised that as Christmas draws near, Andy would pile enough work on him to keep him slaving through the entire holiday?
Ah, but there’s at least one bright spot in Michael’s situation: the person that Andy sent to deliver the deluge of paperwork is the beautiful Cindy (CASEY O’KEEFE). Michael is immediately smitten, knowing that he’s so far out of her league, he might as well be outside the Milky Way. Since he’s throwing a party at his modest place, nevertheless he invites her to said party, hoping against hope that she’ll show up.
And wonder of wonders – even when no one else from the office does, the knock at the door turns out to be…Cindy! They end up having a great time, and at the end of the visit, Cindy, who will have no such a thing as Michael spending his holiday working alone, invites him to her family’s Christmas gathering. Michael can’t believe his good fortune. A beautiful woman invites him to Christmas dinner with her family? His holiday couldn’t get any better! But as the unfortunate office grunt is about to discover, it can get one helluva lot worse.
At first, it seems like Cindy’s clan is the very picture of a Norman Rockwell-ian family; from her dad, Abe (DAVID RUPPRECHT) and brother, Bart (RYAN BOYD), to Grandma (GWEN VAN DAM), and even the “family friend”, Phillip, (JOSEPH KEANE). But after an exceptional Christmas feast, Michael feels the effects of the food coming on (which turns out to be about more than just Granny’s home cookin’), and as he begins to lapse into unconsciousness, another guest arrives…his boss, Andy.
See, it turns out that Cindy’s last name is ROBILLARD. As in his boss’s sister. And this invitation? Well, the entire family didn’t have the best motives in mind. because big ole plump, juicy Michael isn’t just here to share dinner…he’s also to be featured as one of the main dishes! And just to emphasize how dire the consequences are of joining the Robillards for a holiday repast, Michael discovers that he’s not the only potential ‘dish’ being served!
Yes, MERCY CHRISTMAS just served you up the ‘nicest’, most ‘decent’ bunch of cannibals since Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt cooked up human feasts, in Bob Balaban’s 1989’s creepy black comedy, PARENTS.
And just like that celebrated cult film, you have no idea exactly what’s going to happen next, whether it’s Bart’s new girlfriend, Denise (DAKOTA SHEPARD), unexpectedly coming to dinner, or Michael meeting the fellow “menu items” he’s trapped in the Robillard house with: Katherine (WHITNEY NIELSEN) and ‘tough guy’, Eddie (D.J. HALE). One thing’s for sure: you’ll probably need to check to see if you still have a pulse, if you aren’t on your feet and screaming at the TV set, for the movie’s slam-bang finale!
BETH LEVY NELSON and RYAN NELSON, who wrote the script and co-produced as well, were out to subvert and parody the traditions of holiday family gatherings, especially underscoring the dysfunctional nature of the situations that arise on such occasions, and have they done a great job here! The cast seems very well aware of the gift they’ve been given with this script, and everyone is game and up for anything!
The amiable Rupprecht, whose ‘everyman’ face has served him well for years in everything from TV series to soaps, has that great gift for being able to turn a comic moment into one of menacing terror on a dime, and director Nelson exploits that, especially in a scene that will have you laughing and screaming all at once. Everyone in the cast is wonderful in their roles as well. If I had to pick out some standouts besides Hubbell, I’d have to say that Nielsen’s Katherine and Hale’s Eddie are etched forever in my memory, as two people who aren’t about to go gentle to the Robillard’s supper table!
But the whole movie hinges on Michael himself, and whether or not the audience roots for him to get out of this nightmare in one piece. And Hubbell, up to the task as if he’s waited for a role like this for his lifetime, dives right in and gives by turns a touching, pathetic, and finally triumphant performance, that has me hoping that with this debut, we’ll be seeing a whole lot more from him in the future!
As a ‘companion piece’ to BETTER WATCH OUT! (also reviewed on this site), I don’t think you can ask for a better pair of Yuletide frighteners, as a bracing alternative to the one-millionth rerun of “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE”, “HOME ALONE,” or even “A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS.” For a great, dark holiday romp, MERCY CHRISTMAS is a flick that I am overjoyed to give a very enthusiastic three-and-a-half out of five stars! It deserves a place of honor on your shelf, right next to KRAMPUS and BLACK CHRISTMAS.