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Movie Review: “Mermaid’s Song” Stinks Like Low Tide

Tuesday, September 25, 2018 | Review

By ROCCO THOMPSON

Starring Iwan Rheon, Katelyn Mager, and Brendan Taylor
Directed by Nicholas Humphries
Written by Jessica Leigh Clark-Bojin (story), Bob Woolsey, and Meagan Hotz
Wild Eye Releasing 

Though it appears to have been shot in 2014-15, Wild Eye Releasing’s newest feature, MERMAID’S SONG, has arrived on digital platforms in a bid to make the most of the already fading thirst for aquatic/human hybrid entertainments whetted by THE LURE and last year’s THE SHAPE OF WATER and COLD SKIN. This 1930s-set take on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid appears to have been languishing in cinematic oblivion until the gutter marketing masterminds at Wild Eye–the same people who acquired a property named SARS ZOMBIES in 2015 and shrewdly retitled it EBOLA ZOMBIES to capitalize on that year’s irrational health scare–dredged it up. Unlike such entertainingly ludicrous recent acquisitions as JURASSIC DEAD (or, my personal favorite, based on title alone…SHARK EXORCIST) MERMAID’S SONG has loftier ambitions, but these are utterly dismantled by blasé scripting, wonky sound design, and sub-par performances.

Directed by Nicholas Humphries (ABCS OF DEATH 2.5), MERMAID’S SONG tells the story of Charlotte (Katelyn Mager) who, after the death of her mother, comes to find out that she’s part mermaid and can enchant human men with her voice. Things take a turn for the rotten when a gangster, named Randall (GAME OF THRONES’ Iwan Rheon) offers to take on Charlotte’s father’s mysterious debt in exchange for converting the family’s song-and-dance saloon into a brothel…or…something…

This reviewer’s grasp on the finer points of this setup is admittedly weak, as the sound mixing in the film’s first half is a mess. The actors seem to whisper as the music roars over their lines, prompting one to imagine that the cast members are summoning everything within to restrain themselves from yelling offscreen for someone to turn down the goddamn Victrola. Fortunately, nothing is really lost here, as MERMAID’S SONG exhibits little in the way of invention or finesse in the structuring of this fish-girl-out-of-water story. Stylistically, MERMAID’S SONG finds itself somewhere in visual quality between a History Channel series on The Dust Bowl, and a well-funded community theater production of 42nd Street. A dishwater dull filter is applied to give the image a more expensive look, to little avail. All told, it’s difficult to know exactly how many actresses were featured in the cast, as they all wear the exact same brunette, period-style, Party City wig. The gents aren’t easily distinguishable either, but this isn’t due to costuming, moreso an unremarkable combination of Average Joe-looks and unrefined performances across the board. Young leading lady Katelyn Mager’s frequently appears woefully lost, and even Rheon—whose casting likely ate up the majority of the film’s budget despite his relatively brief appearance on screen—can’t seem to muster the interior fortitude to shoulder the film’s titanic dead weight. The denouement, in which Charlotte goes all shark-toothed and web-fingered, has an enjoyable silliness to it, but the moment is brief and drags Humphries’ entire steadily sinking ship down with it. 

Though moments of MERMAID’S SONG call immediately to mind the nautical fantasia of THE LURE (2015), that film felt like a bracing lungful of sea air. In contrast, Nicholas Humphries landlocked bore stinks of low-tide. Featuring a cast that blurs together like a school of herring and sound design that swallows the film whole like Jonah’s storied whale, this latest offering from Wild Eye Releasing is far from a lost treasure. Spare we landlubbers from this mermaid’s song and banish it back to the briny backlog from whence it came!

Rocco Thompson
Rue Morgue's Online Managing Editor, Rocco is a Rondo-nominated writer and avid devotee of all things weird and outrageous.