Film review of the horror-comedy Mandao of the Dead

Mandao (Man-Day-Oh) of the Dead is about an unambitious guy named Jay Mandao (Scott Dunn) who lives frugally off his late father’s cereal royalties. He wants nothing more than to live in solitude, but is duped into taking in his adult nephew-in-law, Jackson (Sean McBride). As Halloween approaches, Jay begins having odd dreams, and comes to find that he has the ability of astral projection. Jay and Jackson are approached by a ghost who has a small window of opportunity to reverse his death.

Mandao of the Dead is a new independent horror-comedy from writer, director and lead actor Scott Dunn, which like so many independent films seem to have slipped under the radar.  Shot in 10 days with a budget of $13k it is understandable how many would not be you would be forgiven for not expecting much from the film. But Mandao of the Dead is one film that exceeds expectations, thanks to an excellent script, solid performances from the cast and the originality of the multi-layered story. For me this is one of the most unexpected highlights of the year.

Initially setting itself up as a goofy buddy comedy, we see Jackson getting kicked out after opening a box of cereal belonging to Jay;which rather than the monetary cost has a more sentimental value. The initial events that continue a similar theme, as we are given a brief introduction to characters,with some random and enigmatic moments, which initially seem clumsily misplaced.However, like so many events in the film, the disjointed timings and random acts are intentionally executed to make them memorable, as they are acknowledged later in the film.

Admittedly a lot of these moments are cleverly understated and may not be picked up on the first viewing. Thankfully like so many classic horror comedies it is worth a second watch, as you will not only pick up on theare as you missed, but it is even funnier the second time round.

Several of these seemingly throw away moments occur early on in the film, where Jackson is looking to reconcile again with his ex-partner Maeve (Marisa Hood).  This includes the remaining contents of an unflushed toilet, which later displays a very different scenario (although neither are pleasant), and Jacksons stiff neck that turns out to be more than just an attempt to gain sympathy.

Following the initial farcical events surrounding Jackson and his obvious lack of self-dependence, event suddenly change when the focus turns back to the film’s main protagonist Jay. Whilst sleeping that night he discovers an ability to astral project outside of his body and suddenly the initial farcical comedy suddenly takes a very different route.

The visual execution of the astral projection is an impressive,especially when you consider the films budget. The transition between Jay falling asleep and suddenly finding himself looking down on his own body works seamlessly, thanks to the creative editing, and it doesn’t stop there. During the astral projection there is a dreamlike look to the scene, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Asian ghost horrors. With the tilted camera angles, drained grey colourisation and pale faces of the characters.  However, even during these scenes there is a contrasting use of lighting, where the visual neon colours are used to entice Jay towards a locked door which he is unable to open.

The film delves brilliantly explores the facets of astral projection incorporating some clever ideas to tie the various stories together.Which includes helping a recently deceased Darth (David Gallegos) to bring him back to the living, preventing a murder, and from his own past dealing with his own unresolved issue with his father.

Seemingly unphased (at least on screen) by writing and directing the film, Scott also takes the lead role in the film as Jay Mandao. Scott delivers a versatile performance as Jay who despite playing most of the film straight, manages to deliver a natural balance between the comedy and drama. There is a likeability to Scott which makes you empathise with his character, as he continues to deal with his own issues, whist still persevering to help everyone around him; despite at times his obvious frustrations.

One of the strongest elements in the film and Scott’s performance is how it deals with the past relationship with Jay’s father. Through astral projection he travels back in time to revisit defining moments in has pas when his father was still alive. The short flashbacks create a dramatic tension which depicts a past which Jay has not yet fully come to terms with. The scenes are very different to the rest of the film as they have a more serious emotional connection to Jays past, but it still manages to connect with the main story.

In contrast to Jay, Sean Mcbride delivers a more comical performance as more simple-minded Jackson,who having made his way into Jay’s life as an as an in law, albeit briefly, continues oblivious to the fact he has outstayed his welcome. It is this same level of dumfounded ignorance which is maintained towards his ex-Maeve, who he cannot bring him self to move on from. There is an innocent idiocy and a naivety to the character which creates the more simple but effective comedy, even in his most downtrodden moments. 

My favourite comedy performance however comes from Sean Liang as cousin Andy, whose knowledge of astral project gives Jay some insight into the other world. With an exuberant performance in both realities, Sean is definitely a memorable character, as he creates some hilarious moments as he tries to guide to Jay.

Mandao of the Dead is a brilliantly clever and original horror-comedy which also incorporates elements of drama and sci-fi to really make it standout. The excellent script and well thought out story, forms the main basis if the film, but it is the performances and visual delivery which helps the film exceed the budget.

Because it works so well as a comedy, the complexity of Mandao of the Dead can be easily overlooked. There is an underlining feel of a mystery thriller, with the various clues throughout which become apparent later on. It is not easy to get everything on the first watch, but it all becomes clearer on a repeat viewing.

Despite a relatively short running time of 1 hrs 14 minutes, it feels as though the film has managed to fit a lot into the film which it is neatly ties up at the end. With a that being said, it does manage to leave the door open for an even bigger sequel. Available now on VOD in the US and will be coming to VOD in the UK in January. If you are thinking about taking a chance on a new independent movie, I would end or start the year with Mandao of the Dead as this is one horror-comedy that is worth checking out!

Review of the horror-comedy Mandao of the Dead
Film review of the horror-comedy Mandao of the Dead

Movie title: Mandao of the Dead

Movie description: Jay Mandao and his adult nephew Jackson use astral projection to reverse a ghost's death on Halloween.

Date published: 2018-12-18

Director(s): Scott Dunn

Actor(s): Scott Dunn, Alexandre Chen, Sean Liang, Gina Gomez, Erin Leigh Neumeyer,

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Philip Rogers

Philip Rogers

Published in various websites, Philip is a reviewer who is best known for his interviews and media coverage of independent projects including; films, books, theatre and live events. Always on the lookout for something different to cover!