Mandao of the Dead Movie Review
Written by Joanna K. Neilson
Released by Mandao Films
Written and directed by Scott Dunn
2018, 74 minutes, Not Rated
Released on November 11th, 2018
Scott Dunn as Jay Mandao
Alexandre Chen as Raymond Mandao
Samara Kohne as April
Gina Gomez as Fer
Marisa Hood as Maeve
Jackson (Sean McBride) has a lifestyle problem. He lives in his Uncle Jay Mandao’s living room, in a tent that - to quote one character – “smells like SARS” and he’s just worn out his welcome. Despite his issues, Jackson lacks motivation to do much at all, and he’s also got major money issues, stealing his Uncle Jay Mandao’s last box of Mandao cereal (he lives off royalities from his father’s cereal company) just to survive. Even worse, Jackson borderline stalks his ex-girlfriend, Maeve (Marisa Hood). She just happens to be hyper-sensitive to sunlight, and doesn’t want to see him at all. This is just a simple slacker story, right?
But then Uncle Jay starts to astrally project, Maeve takes a morning walk in a tank top, and things get much, much weirder.
Feeling much more ambitious than its main characters, Mandao of the Dead operates within a world that doesn’t feel a million miles from the goofier moments of Pulp Fiction. With a similar LA gone-to-seed vibe, the resemblance to Tarantino’s masterpiece ends there, but the characters’ fixation with breakfast cereal and their leftfield, beneath the radar lifestyles uses a similar sense of ordinary people falling out of their depth. They try to cope as ‘very bad things’ start to pile up. And they react pretty much how a normal person would, only with more sarcasm. Still, what happens is not all that predictable, which makes a very pleasant change for low budget horror. It’s hard to see where it’s going at first. Once it starts to show its colours though – mostly gory red and haunting green, for the record - then it gets much more interesting, and finally heads toward horror.
When the horror does kick in, it commits to it. All the same, it’s not really scary, going instead for a sense of ‘huh, that was random’ before the next revelation kicks in. Without giving too much away, the plot over-relies on ‘oh, look, I can do THIS convenient thing now!’ But it is consistent once it sets up the rules of their universe, and it has the sense to throw in a deadline for the terrible things to get fixed, or else!
So is it enjoyable? Most of it relies heavily on your tolerance for good-natured bitching between mostly likeable characters, primarily Jackson and his ‘uncle’. They’re very hapless, but quite endearing, and most of the characters in this tiny cast are people you could spend more time with - though some you’d run far away from. Let’s have a shout out in particular for their marvelously awful, new age hipster cousin – Andy (Sean Liang), and the spot-on skewering of these ‘spiritual’ moneymakers and their delusions of grandeur.
With a dash of Insidious, and a squeeze of the cheesy 1980s movies where ‘my neighbour is a monster’ , this is a fun ride that would really benefit from slightly more inspired music – overdone tinny shock chords are a turn-off, unfortunately. Sound aside, this looks really good and is clearly made with love and skill. Skipping through its plot with a fun, light touch that makes it easy to get into, and out of, Mandao of the Dead is a decently made, occasionally even moving, indie horror, and it hits the mark. Even though it’s not particularly scary, you might just care what happens, and that’s even harder to do.
But most importantly – will Jackson ever replace his Uncle’s cereal? You’ll have to check it out to learn the truth.