By MICHAEL GINGOLD
From 1995 to 2000, producer Cary Granat was a key member of the Dimension Films team, shepherding the likes of Wes Craven’s SCREAM films and Robert Rodriguez’s FROM DUSK TILL DAWN to the screen. Now he’s back in the horror business with WELCOME TO MERCY, which puts a fresh spin on a supernatural staple, and discussed it exclusively with RUE MORGUE.
WELCOME TO MERCY, which IFC Midnight brings to select theaters and VOD tomorrow, was directed by Tommy Bertelsen and scripted by Kristen Ruhlin, who also stars as a demon-afflicted young woman named Madaline. As she travels to a remote Latvian convent whose inhabitants attempt to save her soul, the focus remains squarely on Madaline and her state of mind, as opposed to those trying to expunge the evil. This switch in perspective is what attracted Granat to Ruhlin’s screenplay.
“We’ve never really had a film before that takes you into the world of the person who’s been possessed,” he tells us. “You always see these movies from the point of view outside the possession, but this is a movie about what it is like to be possessed, and where you go in this battle that happens over your soul, where it’s really in your hands and it’s your responsibility. The movie shows what it’s like to be in that point of view; it’s like running a gauntlet, and there are a number of challenges that Madaline has to go through to come out of it.”
Granat was immediately impressed with the screenplay when it was brought to him by fellow producer Joel Michaely. “Kristen had done some acting previously that we had seen, and as a writer, she was outstanding. She really put her heart into this, and there was a rawness to the way she wrote WELCOME TO MERCY that we were so impressed with.” To direct Ruhlin’s script and Ruhlin, Granat and his fellow producers selected Bertelsen, an actor turned director who had previously helmed 2017’s FEED—a drama that, coincidentally, was also written by its star, Troian Bellisario. “We interviewed a bunch of directors and felt that his vision was the strongest,” Granat recalls, “and then introduced him to Kristen. I don’t think this will be their last collaboration.”
Ruhlin originally wrote WELCOME TO MERCY to take place in the States, but as the producer notes, “We have a partnership with a company in Latvia, and so the whole film was shot there. We wanted to capture the Gothic look and feel of the countryside, the coastal area there, this island that we found. About half the film was cast in Latvia; they have an incredible young talent base there.” In addition, two of the key roles are played by British actresses: Lily Newmark (SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY) as August, a young nun who befriends Madaline, and UK TV regular Eileen Davies as the Mother Superior.
Granat, who spent nine years after departing Dimension running Walden Media—where he oversaw more benign family fare like THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA—sees a kinship between WELCOME TO MERCY and one of his earlier genre projects. “It reminds me a lot of a film I was involved with back then called THE OTHERS, in that it’s trying to redefine a certain kind of genre,” he says. “It is also, to me, a great metaphor for the kind of struggle that so many women are going through right now, and it’s a great way for millennials to look at so many things in their lives. It just really appealed to me as a great piece of literature and as a film, and to make it in the classy way Tommy did was an exciting way for me to get back into horror.” So does this mean Granat will be producing more scary movies in the years ahead? “We’ll see. My teenage kids certainly want me to!” he laughs.