Mandrake follows probation officer Cathy Madden, who is given the task of rehabilitating notorious killer ‘Bloody’ Mary Laidlaw back into society after twenty years in jail. Cathy has always believed that every client deserves a shot at redemption, but her beliefs are firmly tested when two children disappear near Mary’s farm.
Mandrake is a Northern Irish film that combines elements of witchcraft, local lore and a beautiful setting with dark, modern themes. It is the debut feature from director Lynne Davison and stars Deidre Mullins (The Dark Mile and TV’s Man Down), Derbhle Crotty (Notes on a Scandal), Jude Hill (Belfast) and Paul Kennedy (House of The Dragon).
While certainly a well-made film, Mandrake is a slow burn that’s wick burns brightest at the beginning. The film starts out really strong, with a great performance by Mullins and an expansive selection of roads down which our imaginations can wander. We have witchcraft, The Wandering Man, devils and demons, bogarts and boggles—it’s all there at the start and I found myself excited by all the possibilities the film could explore. It then proceeds to pick the most boring of all options available.
I mean that for the most part, Mandrake chooses to stay physical rather than go full metaphysical all the while teasing us with possibility. Sure, we get some witchcraft; splotches of the unexplainable and moments of magic, but it just wasn’t enough. The film plays it very safe, not wanting to dip its paws into the deep end of…anything really. It’s not quite a haunting, not quite a revenge film, not quite a creature feature, not quite a social commentary on what depraved things parents would do for their children. It touches on many elements but seems to shy away from fully embracing any.
Now, the film was very well made. I cannot fault the acting and the cinematography is wonderful. The special effects, when we need them, are perfectly done and the costume department deserves a raise. The editing is there but the pacing isn’t. This is Davison’s first feature film so I cannot be too harsh—there is an obvious talent and great potential. I would have, however, liked the film to be less conservative and more exploratory; not afraid of its own elements. I wanted more.
Thanks for reading and stay sordid. Mandrake premieres exclusively on Shudder this Thursday, November 10th. The trailer and poster are below.
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