Thanks to Disney, Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid is one of the most famous fairy tales out there even if the animation company took a much lighter view on it. Anderson’s original story was a lot darker which is the perfect inspiration for Mermaid’s Song (also known as Charlotte’s Song). A horror take on the classic story.
Set in the 1930’s Depression era of America, the story is based around a young girl named Charlotte (Katelyn Mager) who lives with her father, George (Brendan Taylor) and sisters. The father gets his daughters (excluding Charlotte as she is too young) to perform dance routines for the local men-folk on stage but business is bad. So bad in fact that when gangster Randall (Iwan Rheon) comes along with an offer, George takes him up on it without really stopping to think of the consequences.
Randall pays off the families debt but they are now beholden to his demands and he wants changes. Changes that include turning the joint into a seedy den of prostitution and abuse.
George is too much of a coward to stand up to Randall and his goons but things go to far when one takes a liking to the young Charlotte. While trying to have his way with her the youngster’s secret power is revealed. She is a mermaid, like her mother and has the power to control humans using her voice.
George had kept her true identity from her worried that she would heed her true calling and return to the sea. Something Charlotte’s mother had been so desperate to avoid that she gave up her life to save her daughter.
The secret is out now though…
Director Nicholas Humphries has crafted a well-told and interesting tale here. One that is bleak and often horrible to watch but still holds the attention for the majority of the runtime. A lot of this is thanks to the excellent cast.
Katelyn Mager is impressive as an innocent child desperate to do her part in helping the family business but learns the hard way of just how evil people can be. Brendan Taylor as her father is completely unlikable as a cowardly man who cares for no-one but himself. The scene where he offers up his daughter’s finger to be cut off instead of his is simply disgusting. Then there is Iwan Rheon, an actor who does sleazy, twisted and evil better then most. He exudes power and threat, made all the worse when he is being perfectly affable. He creates such unease and although he doesn’t get loads of screen time, he lights it up every time he appears.
These are the characters that standout and while there are many more who are well acted, they serve only as background characters really. One in particular is a bit of a waste. Tim (Steve Bradley) is the source of Charlotte’s affections even though he is much older and treats her like a younger sister but this is never fully developed. Nor is his relationship with George. They have a past, a deep past but it’s left vague and unclear. So much so that at one stage I thought he was related to the them in some way, like their older brother. It doesn’t create a good enough connection to him so when the bloody and violent finale comes along it’s hard to feel too invested in his character.
It’s the only real slip from a movie that impresses. The visual style, everything looks dirty and grimy, the subtle sound effects and music, the use of silence to heighten tension, the design of the mermaid…it’s all very effective.
A very clever re-telling of a story that has just enough of the fairy-tale in it too. Those worrying that it might be lacking in horror need not as the film mixes the evil that humans do with fantastical mermaid violence.