Michael Briskett is the nerdy accountant who stays after hours, diligently toiling away at the cost of any social life. He is awkward and shy, and easily intimidated. Imagine his fortune when a beautiful co-worker invites him to travel with her to visit her family on Christmas. This is the setup for Mercy Christmas, a No Mercy Pictures/Other Paw Films project directed by Ryan Nelson.
Briskett is played delightfully by Steven Hubbell. His demeanor and ability to flip from serious to hilarious reminded me of Will Sasso (Mad TV). His innocence makes him instantly likable. Once Cindy, played by Casey O’ Keefe (Shock, My Crazy Ex), shows up to charm him and provide some company, he’s sunk. She’s the perfect, pretty polite girl who is the spider to Michael’s fly. He agrees to go with her to her family home, and is instantly met with two surprises. First, his demanding, business-driven boss is her brother. Second, there are captives in the basement, and they’re what’s for dinner.
The juxtaposition of violence to comedy is what makes the film so funny, while paying homage to the slasher genre. Briskett – get it? “My favorite cut of meat.” Once you know what fate is coming for Michael, you can’t even count the number of meal-related puns pepper the dialogue. The characters are given quirks for depth. Cindy thinks fur is murder, and her OCD goes out of bounds when someone spills a drop of blood on the white table cloth. Granny is good church-going folk. The ex-boyfriend endlessly quotes literature authors. Of course, the writers couldn’t possible overlook a Rocky Mountain Oysters joke, and viewers probably wouldn’t let them live it down if they did.
The comedy and the bloodshed continuously ramp up, with the family members begin to have their differences. Cole Gleason (Book Club) grows more and more unhinged as the family dynamic is threatened. His descent into full psychopath is accented with tense music and percussion. His growing violence further intimidates Michael, driving him to the point of Stockholm Syndrome.
The soundtrack’s use of traditional holiday songs pairs nicely with Michael’s Christmas sweaters, ugly apartment decorations and even the fruitcake on the table. The film has a minimalist set, with most of the film taking place in two floors of the house. The scenes are mainly shot in close with plenty of steady cam. The final 15 minutes is a bloodbath for the ages (and actually won the Best Kill Award at Sin City Horror Fest 2017.) Other award nominations came from Shriekfest, Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, and the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. The final act is pure mayhem, and worth every minute of the film’s buildup.
Mercy Christmas is like a sit com cast acting out their own version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (“Tonight, on a very special Blossom, she learns that the family eats the neighbors.”) It’s the Cleavers with actual cleavers. The film runs an hour and 23 minutes and is available on several video-on-demand services, including iTunes, DirecTV, Amazon and more. Bon apetit!