MERMAID DOWN (2019)
Directed by Jeffrey Grellman
Written by Jeffrey Grellman, Kelly Lauren Baker
Starring Megan Therese Rippey, Eryn Rea, Phillip Andre Botello, Ashley Cordelia, Meggan Kaiser, Burt Culver, Jessica Honor Carleton, Cara Bamford, Michelle Gallagher, Melissa Lugo, Shani Drake, Caroline Dunaway, E. Shepherd Stevenson, Drew Moore, Zana Glisovic, Erin LaMere, Amber Gaston, Graham Drake-Maurer, & Alexandra Bokova as the Mermaid!
Find out more about this film here!
MERMAID DOWN jumps right into the action at the beginning after a wonderfully frank and funny back and forthing between two swarthy shipmates, jawing about mermaids over shots of whiskey. They decide, quite matter of factly, to capture a mermaid, chop off her tail, and haul her into shore for big money, not once blinking at the logic that mermaids are not really known to exist. The next time we see the two, they are on a ship in the middle of the sea and dammit if they don’t happen upon a mermaid, played by the alien like beauty, Alexandra Bokova.
That’s the path of logic that is followed in MERMAID DOWN, a truly bizarre film that is either an experimental work of a genius from another world or a clumsy train wreck put together by an amateur. On second thought, the film is a little of both.
After the mermaid is captured, she is taken to a women’s mental hospital. You see, after her tail was severed, the mermaid grew human legs and despite her odd behavior, she appears to be a physically normal, but mentally unstable young woman. At the hospital, we meet a plethora of other eccentric and mentally challenged women, one of whom has an imaginary friend who actually turns out to be a ghost (played by Meggan Kaiser). The head doctor (Dr. Beyer played by Burt Culver), who procured the mermaid from the two fishermen, is quite unstable himself, watching the women from his locked office and torturing them in a basement full hip deep in water. Even for these mentally unstable gals, the mermaid is odd, as she screeches dolphin noises and looks like she’s tripping on acid with wide eyed and unfocussed stares. When the gals escape the facility and go swimming in a lake, the mermaid begins to grow her tail back, thus triggering the gals to get the mermaid back to the ocean before the demented Dr. Beyer can get to her.
OK, if I were to read that description, I would leap on this film like a mackerel on a flashy lure. It’s the kind of off the wall concept that immediately makes me drool. And there are an awful lot of cool concepts at play in MERMAID DOWN. You’ve got a machine gun toting doctor, a mermaid without a tail, an imaginary friend that is actually a ghost, and all kinds of odd behavior from the other girl. The way the girls interact with one another feels utterly genuine, as in, all of them seem nuts and lacking in any kind of social skills. It’s like GIRL INTERRUPTED with a mermaid and a ghost. Which, yes, I know, sounds pretty amazing!
Unfortunately, it seems that the filmmakers might be a few fish shy of a school because in order to tell a story, there needs to be someone that follows some kind of logical path. There needs to be someone, anyone, who is grounded and the viewer can trust in order for the viewer to latch onto and depend on. There are a few semi-sane people in the cast, but with the way this film is technically put together, their roles are hard to uncypher. This made it extremely difficult for me to follow the story. It just feels like the filmmakers wrote this as they went along, not really using anything like foreshadowing, character definition, role establishment, and so on. All of a sudden, there’s a machine gun toting doctor massacring his patients. All of a sudden, a ghost appears. All of a sudden, the mermaid sprouts a tail, and no one really blinks at any of it. Yes, I understand that these gals are supposed to be unstable, but still, there ought to be someone with some semblance of reality.
The real problem is with the technical aspects of the film. We are never given a long shot, laying out the complex layout of the hospital. The girls are just stacked into one cramped room watching television and all introduced at once, talking over one another, mumbling and babbling. We never get any kind of establishing scene where we get to know the patients and the place the action is taking place in. There’s just a door suddenly talked about that goes underneath the hospital leading to a room half-full of water with junk floating all around it. No explanation why this is in the hospital.
The camera is always just a few inches from the cast members’ faces. The gals all look and are dressed relatively the same. Each are given quirks, but there are so many characters that they all blend together and immediately are forgotten once off screen. The film does covey a dark atmosphere, but it is so dark that often times we can’t even tell what’s going on. That makes it difficult to get your bearings once at the facility. I’d say that this might be intentional because the filmmaker wanted to give the audience a sense of being trapped, but the entire film is made this way, so I think its more of a chink in the armor than a stylistic choice.
The climax feels as if the filmmakers simply gave up any kind of semblance of sanity and tries to wrap things up as if it were a fairy tale. The action is drawn out and once again taking place in a cramped place that is poorly lit and filled with characters, so I had no idea what was happening. Luckily, it seems the filmmakers caught the lack of cohesion and tried to make up for it by having one of the actors shout out what is exactly happening since the action is so dark, badly edited, and poorly structured. There’s a scene where the mermaid smashed through a wall with her tail and someone literally screams, “She’s smashing through the wall with her tail!” Yeah, it’s that bad.
Had there been some kind of semblance of knowledge of how to shoot, edit, and stage a scene, I think MERMAID DOWN would have been some kind of odd little gem. I can live with the lack of logic. I’ve seen RUBBER. I loved THE GREASY STRANGLER. I’m not a literal minded person by a long shot. Still, those films had cohesion in their technique, even though the stories went all over the place. MERMAID DOWN is a scattered mess from both a narrative and filmmaking sense. It’s a film I wanted so badly to like, but the lack of technical skill simply killed all interest in it for me by the end. I was hoping for an awesome and offbeat time when I caught MERMAID DOWN, but after seeing it, I just wanted to throw it back into the ocean.