"Do you know Mercy? Do you know her name? She'll take away your hurt if you promise her your pain." That's the refrain opening Mercy Black, a new horror film from Blood Fest director Owen Egerton that arrived on Netflix this Sunday. The film may remind you of real instances where where fictional characters inspired believers to act in their name, but is Mercy Black based on a true story? The horror movie's focus is more on the insidiousness of creatures like Slender Man and Bloody Mary infiltrating popular culture and the effects that that can have.
The film follows Marina (Daniella Pineda), a young woman committed to a mental institution after she and a friend lured a classmate to the woods and attempted to sacrifice her to "Mercy Black," a mythical character made up for the film. By doing so, they believed she would become flesh and solve their problems, but Marina was more hesitant than her friend. Years later, her psychologist (Janeane Garofalo) believes that Marina's ready to rejoin the world, but Marina isn't so sure.
Moving back in with her sister, she learns that "Mercy Black" went viral in the world while she was away. Stories, creepypasta, and worst of all, copycat crimes, are plastered all over the internet. Eerie events happen around the house, and Marina begins questioning her own sanity. When her nephew starts asking about Mercy Black and showing the same signs of curiosity and belief Marina had at his age, she's determined to put a stop to it once and for all.
The movie hinges strongly on belief. Mercy Black is as real as you believe her to be. The events that kick off the movie and haunt Marina do closely resemble a shocking attack reportedly inspired by another shadowy benefactor. According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in 2014, two 12 year-old girls were arrested and charged as adults for "attempted first-degree intentional homicide" after their friend was found to have been stabbed multiple times. The girls told authorities that wanted to "sacrifice" their friend to become "proxies" for Slender Man, an internet legend, and would be taken away to his haunted mansion once they did so.
Anissa Weier pleaded guilty but asserted that her mental illness meant that she was not responsible for her actions, per Associated Press, and in 2017 was sentenced to be hospitalized for 25 years to life from the date of the crime, keeping her institutionalized until at least age 37. Also per AP, Morgan Geyser pleaded guilty and was sentenced to the maximum 40-years-to-life in an institution.
Modern tales of Bloody Mary, Slender Man, and other creepy creatures popping up on internet message boards and at slumber parties extend age-old folklore traditions to modern times. As you may have learned in childhood, supposedly if you stand in a dark room, look into a mirror and say 'Bloody Mary' a certain number of times, she'll appear in the mirror in front of you, sometimes covered in blood, occasionally to tell you about the future. Plenty of effort's been made over the years to find out who Bloody Mary is really supposed to be — she's accused Salem witch Mary Worth, blood-bather Elizabeth Bathory, viciously anti-Protestant Queen Mary, or any other number of women — but in the end, it doesn't matter.
All of these characters are all stand-ins for people's anxieties about the unknown and need to believe in something beyond the tangible. Slender Man's clear online origin — he was created for a SomethingAwful.com photoshop contest in 2009 — didn't stop people from quickly building up his mythos, finding "examples" of him deep in the past, and adding their own contributions in the form of stories, pictures, and videos, to his legend.
With Mercy Black, the danger is exactly that. This creature's existence, real or imagined, literally hinges on belief. Though Marina's doing her best to regain control, she admits, "Sometimes I miss believing in something." Her doctor's reply that it's the human condition to need to believe in something may be true, but the help, or harm, lies in where we place that belief.