I usually shy away from gory films (see my review of Wild
Side for evidence of that) but occasionally I can't
help myself. If the actresses in question are particular favourites,
it's hard to stay away.
Rated R for "language, drug use and perverse sexual behavior
including violence and nudity", this film does tend to push
the limits of good taste somewhat. However, there's no more gore
than your average episode of C.S.I or any straight
cop drama. Mercy had to be re-cut and re-submitted
four times to even achieve its R rating. Despite the graphic bloodletting
and sexual perversity depicted in the film, it was the simple
allusion to lesbian oral sex that the censors baulked at. It's
a classic example of the double standards that pervade the film
In Mercy, the luminous Ellen Barkin plays Detective
Catherine Palmer, an experienced but lonely cop on the trail of
a serial killer who indulges in what appears to be consensual
S&M sex and then stabs his victims and severs their eyelids.
The trail of people who knew the first two victims leads her to
Vickie Kittrie (Peta Wilson), a successful lesbian businesswoman.
While obviously distressed at the death of her friends (and sexual
partners), Vickie is at first reluctant to cooperate. After a
while, Vickie sets her sights at Catherine as her latest conquest,
and the investigation becomes just another dangerous sexual game
Vickie introduces Catherine to an underground world of rich women
who like to get together without men for drugs, orgies, S&M,
whatever takes their fancy. Someone is killing off these powerful
women one at a time. The only way Catherine can understand and
flush out the killer is to immerse herself into Vickie's world,
to try and understand it. We are led to wonder, is the killer
actually a woman, or are these women simply a feeding pool for
a sick mind? Is Vickie herself the killer, or a potential victim?
From entrance to exit Peta Wilson just oozes sex. As with all
good Femme Fatales, Vickie Kittrie is unknowable, undefinable,
seductive and obviously damaged. This makes her a good match for
Catherine who understands damage all too well. Vickie is a woman
who has endured so much physical pain she has come to enjoy it,
indeed she can no longer experience pleasure without having pain
and danger attached.
There are boundaries that shouldn't be crossed, too many reasons
why these women shouldn't form any real feeling for each other.
The attraction grows, deepens, intensifies, and is never truly
sated. Like all good thrillers, not until the final reel do we
unravel the plot twists. It isn't the ending that we want, but
it is the ending that was inevitable, the one that makes perfect
Truthfully, this film and its subject matter does the collective
lesbian image no favours. Desperate, cruel, sad, even psychotic
- those are all qualities synonymous with the lesbian stereotypes
of films past. Despite that, Mercy is interesting
because it explores the pathology of certain sexual preferences
in such an open way and dares to discuss some of the reasons behind
The film does, to the naive observer, seem to be thoroughly well
researched. While I do think it is dangerous to assume all people
who enjoy S&M sex have some background of abuse, it is probably
safe to say that many do, and that films like this are at least
partial reflections of their experiences. The S&M scenes are
designed neither to disgust nor to titillate. Since we see most
of them through the eyes of Catherine and her investigation, they
actually seem an attempt to inform our viewpoint and to broaden
our minds. Mercy might play like a B-movie thriller
but that mood seems more intentional than not.
Mercy is a true guilty pleasure, if ever I saw
one, especially for people who do like a good murder mystery.
Also, the seduction scene between Catherine and Vickie is as hot
as they come. Trash cinema with a soul? Fans of La
Femme Nikita will be entranced. The darkness of the
human soul is not a pretty place to live, but sometimes it can
be fascinating to visit for a while.
Warning: This film contains images that some
people may find disturbing.
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