Astral projection defined per Wikipedia: an interpretation of an out-of-body experience that assumes the existence of an “astral body” separate from the physical body and capable of traveling outside it. The otherworldly experience befalls suddenly upon Jamison Mandao, a young man living off the royalties of his late father’s flailing popular cereal brand, and his recently discovered, and also bewitching, new astral plane exploring powers land him in a macabre laced predicament with his adult squatting nephew, Jackson, and his nephew’s blood hungry, murderous ex-girlfriend, Maeve. With a little help provided by Jamison’s astral enthusiast relative, cousin Andy, and Maeve’s recent victim whose ghost is stuck in limbo, Jamison must use his astral projection to travel back in time, rearranging the series of events in order to not only appease the desperate pleads of a ghost, but to also save his daft, but good natured nephew becoming her next hapless fatality before the stroke of midnight segueing into the Day of the Dead when their chance to live again will rest in peace for eternity.
Here we go again with a time traveling genre film, the horror-comedy “Mandao of the Dead” from writer, director, and star Scott Dunn. Dunn’s sophomore feature film of 2018 dares the chances in being overly and, frankly, unnecessarily lambasted by internet trolls aiming to pick apart the film, hunting vigorously for time travel plot holes, but, and I reiterate this point again, that Dunn’s film is mainly a comedy where the laws of physics and ideas of probability have no bearing on Dunn’s grim fantasy loop. Despite the rather clichéd title suffix implying a facet from the zombie genre, “Mandao of the Dead” refers toward the post-Halloween, more traditionally Hispanic recognized Day of the Dead on November 2nd and while Dunn uses the day typically held for respect of past lives, the “Schlep” director conjures up a lively twist upon deathly circumstances that forms a cut-off date when that slither of twilight time for the dead ceases to be no more.
Alongside Scott Dunn as Jamison Mandao, Sean McBride buddies up as the freeloading nice nephew, Jackson. Dunn and McBride have previously worked together in Dunn’s first feature entitled Schlep and their rapport in “Mandao of the Dead” indubitably confirms a harmonious witty banter and a light-hearted dark comedy in fine, mechanical form. McBride’s spot on heartfelt halfwit Jackson nicely compliments Mandao’s knack for impatient contemplating. Throw a dude name Darth into Jamison and Jackson’s inert existence and things get dire and interesting. “2-Headed Shark Attack’s” David Gallegos isn’t portrayed as your friendly neighborhood ghost nor is he a malevolent one; instead, Darth begs for help and the cosmic universe delivers to him an astral projector and Gallego’s couldn’t be more sharply colorful with his spontaneous humor. Together, the three 30-something year-olds are pitted against the dark horse that is Maeve. Playing an incognito blood drinker, Marisa Hood has an innocence about her that renders a false sense of security and, in Jackson’s case, a pair of weak knees. Alexandre Chen, Sean Liang, and Gina Gomez round out the cast as characters finding their ways into the Day of the Dead debacle.
While we’ve seen where timelines become mangled by the interference of a time traveler and where the theme is fondled with in “Mandao of the Dead,” Dunn doesn’t over knead the narrative with it though certainly a centerpiece of the film as a whole. Mandao’s adventure with astral projection and his middling with the planes are only the beginning that have stirred a frenzy of unhappy campers in the spiritual world. The whole event of Mandao going back in time, twice, to save people is the proverbial tip of the iceberg and a welcoming taste of what’s to come from Dunn and his team. Shot in 10 days with a tight budget, Dunn, who also self-produced and edited the final product, has crystal clear storytelling abilities even with some of the rough, less glamourous edges encompassed within the world indie filmmaking. The characters are well written, from Cousin Andy, to Jackson, and to Darth, as their three various personalities colliding under a thin, blurry gothically influenced omen line.
“Mandao of the Dead” arrives onto Amazon Instant via Prime Video and presented in a widescreen, 2.35:a aspect ratio, and clocking in at a runtime of 74 minutes. No physical media specifications were provided now or for future release. With a budget around $13,000, the English stereo audio track and Panasonic GH5 image quality are finely calibrated and a flat out success for streaming platforms. No bonus features are included with this release. Vampirism, science-fiction, spirits, and astral planes, “Mandao of the Dead” is Scott Dunn’s golden genre-bending film of ghoulish and space and time continuum disproportions! So much so, a sequel has been announced, “Mandao of the Damned,” sparking a positive anticipated interest, by at least this reviewer, for the next chapter of a hapless, macabre adventures that Jay Mandao and Jackson will step into in the next astral plane!