Kristen Ruhlin is both the screenwriter and the star of the supernatural thriller “Welcome to Mercy” — and she’s written herself one heck of a role. The movie’s too slow at the start and somewhat befuddling at the end, but for the most part it’s a haunting, poignant portrait of one woman’s Kafkaesque nightmare.
Ruhlin plays Madaline, a single mother who at the start of the film travels back to her family home in Latvia with her daughter, to visit her father on his deathbed. As soon as she arrives, she suffers an out-of-body experience, culminating in violent spasms and what appears to be stigmata.
The local Catholic priest and Madaline’s estranged mother both suggest she convalesce at a convent. But the nuns there are unhelpful, and treat her her more like a prisoner than someone in need of healing. Only a young novice named August (Lily Newmark) shows Madaline any kindness, and even she seems to be hiding some terrible secret.
“Welcome to Mercy” doesn’t develop much momentum until about halfway through; and even then, it doesn’t spin a story so much as explore Madaline’s increasingly fractured psyche, as she investigates the truth about herself and her weird spells.
But director Tommy Bertelsen effectively illustrates both Eastern European grimness and the phantasmagorical spectacle inside Madaline’s head. And Ruhlin, of course, is a marvel as the character she created: a mother desperate to reunite with her child, but worried she’s become a terrible danger.
‘Welcome to Mercy’
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Playing: Starst Nov. 2, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood