The SoCal Family Christmas Massacre – A Review of Mercy Christmas
Michael Briskett (Steven Hubbell) is an all-around good guy. He’s a hard worker, eager to please, and full of Christmas cheer. He also doesn’t know how to stand up for himself and is a bit of a loner with no real friends or family. His Christmas party is nearly a bust when no one shows up until his beautiful co-worker Cindy (Casey O’Keefe) arrives. The pair hit it off over many rounds of eggnog and Michael soon receives his greatest holiday wish – an invitation to Cindy’s traditional family Christmas gathering. However, Cindy fails to mention her family members are cannibals and Michael is going to be the main course. Teaming up with Eddie (D.J. Hale) and Katherine (Whitney Nielsen)—two other people on the menu—Michael Briskett fights to survive the holidays before he’s literally turned to brisket.
Mercy Christmas, the feature film debut by director Ryan Nelson (who wrote the screenplay with Beth Levy Nelson), delights with its cross-genre appeal. It might’ve been the most I laughed during a horror movie. Or maybe the most revolted I’ve been during a comedy. From the start, it establishes it’s own bizarre tone and fully commits to it for the rest of the film. It is thoroughly surreal as it oscillates from gut-busting laughs to wince-inducing violence. To be completely honest, I don’t know what the hell I just watched, but I loved every absurd minute of it.
Steven Hubbell’s Michael is such an unlikely protagonist. Even before the horror show begins, you feel sorry for him. He’s pathetic, but endearing. Unlike the obnoxious teens you may find in a run-of-the-mill slasher, you genuinely do not want any harm to come to Michael. Hubbell brings this character to life perfectly, providing the essential anchor the film needs. Without giving away any spoilers, the film absolutely shines once Michael’s and Eddie’s attempt to escape kicks into gear. It left me wanting to see the duo in a series of holiday-themed, batshit-crazy misadventures. The cannibal clan is played completely straight, which makes the horror work so well. Brothers Andy (Cole Gleason) and Bart (Ryan Boyd) squabble over Bart’s recent engagement to a police dispatcher (Dakota Shepard) and what it means to their family traditions, while Granny (Gwen Van Dam) insists the whole family goes to church. They’re so damn ordinary that their actions are even more horrific. They’re not the Sawyer clan from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; these are people who live next door. Complementing the family’s portrayal is the overall bright and sunny Southern California look of the film. Unlike most horror films, the action in this film is primarily set during the daytime. The terror doesn’t linger in the shadows, making it all the more disturbing.
Because of the subject matter, Mercy Christmas certainly isn’t for everyone. For the right kind of weirdo (i.e., me), it’s a refreshing and fun horror comedy romp. I’m looking forward to seeing what the team who made this film comes up with next.