January 14, 2019 Mandao of the Dead (Movie Review)
Two things; is Mandao of the Dead another zombie film? The title makes it sound like one, given it is a riff on George Romero’s work. Also, what is a ‘Mandao’? Mandao (‘man-dey-oh’) is the surname of this film’s hero: Jay Mandao, played by Writer, Director and Editor Scott Dunn (Kickin’ It series, Schlep 2016). Guess what? It is not a zombie film either, but a ghost story.
Mandao just wanted to be left alone to live off his deceased dad’s cereal royalties (‘Mandao’s’) . Unfortunately he is stuck looking after his nephew-in-law, Jackson (Sean McBride: Nadezhda 2014, Beautiful Cynical Creatures 2015). To add to his troubles, Mandao starts having weird dreams that turn out to be him using astral projection. Through this power, both he and Jackson are approached by a ghost called Darth (David Gallegos: 2-Headed Shark Attack 2012, Cozmo’s 2016) with a request: reverse his death by stopping his vengeful ex-girlfriend Maeve (Marisa Hood: The Bad Samaritan 2010, Broken Things 2012) in time.
The film popped up on VOD on November 13th 2018, but its DVD/Blu-ray debut is still pending. It is kind of a passion project for Dunn, as he had stories in mind for two characters called ‘Mandao’ and ‘Jackson’ since high school. He even has a sequel, Mandao of the Damned, planned for a 2020 release. Is he getting ahead of himself? Or did he know he had something good on his hands?
It wastes no time getting started, given it runs at a svelte 74 minutes. It does not skimp on the details. The audience learns all about Mandao and Jackson’s characters and their relationship within the first 10 minutes. Jackson is a dimwit of Homer Simpson proportions disliked by most, yet is innocent enough to get the audience’s sympathy. Then again, they cannot blame Mandao for his frustration with his nephews ineptitude. They are less Shaun and Ed from 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, but more Laurel and Hardy at Halloween.
They make for a good duo; the frustrated slacker having to juggle his goofy slacker relative on top of his newfound mystic powers. It is only the beginning of the paranormal weirdness, as the plot brings in time travel, vampirism, and other spooky stuff. Just in case the time travel through astral projection was not mind-bending enough. Yet, Dunn and Co did not have to break the bank on putting it on screen. Just the power of camera and sound filters for the projection, and enough fake blood to go around. It works out on-screen too, looking suitably eerie without looking under or over the top.
It is pretty funny too. Mandao of the Dead has good comedic timing to go with the one liners and occasional pieces of slapstick. That is not to say it has its misses (‘ass-jacket’?). It just hits way more often, and it spreads the humor fairly evenly between the characters. Mandao and Jackson are the stars of the show, but Darth, Maeve, and even Mandao’s Cousin Andy (Sean Liang: 2Survive 2015, Lonely & Horny 2016) get some chuckles.
The comedy wraps around some fine character work too. Mandao and Jackson have more meat to their bones than Goofus and Not-so-Goofus. They undergo their own arcs, developing as they trade gags over EVP, visions, and other phenomena. It gives the picture its brain and heart, making it more than the sum of its parts.
So, it is hard to pick holes in Mandao of the Dead, as it manages to make the most of what it has got. There is some fine writing at work, alongside some good performances from the cast, and solid film-making. Mandao of the Dead may not be long, yet it does not feel under-cooked or rushed. Nor does it outstay its welcome. It presents and ties up everything before teasing its upcoming sequel, so it does not end on a cop-out either. Mandao of the Dead should please fans of Comedy, Horror, and both mixed together. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 5 out of 5 stars.