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Reviewed in the United States on September 22, 2020
I honestly wasn't expecting much going into this movie based on the cover image, but it really wasn't too bad for a dorky horror flick. I only watched it because I really like Max Martini and was trying to catch all his filmography. Taken for what it is, it was an enjoyable, relaxing movie.
2.0 out of 5 starsThe very definition of `low budget'
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 26, 2013
This film opens with a woman running through woods (being chased by a mainly unseen being). This is never a good sign. If you've watched pretty much any handful of random horror films, you'll know that `woman running through woods' is possibly the most overused cliché of the genre (with perhaps the teenagers having sex and dying being a close second).
That opening is a kind of warning of things to come. Some films thrive on having a low budget. The lack of money behind the picture forces the film-makers to use new and more subtle techniques to tell the story. Not here. This film has no budget and it shows in every scene.
It's about a team of archaeologists, sent somewhere in South America (like the location really matters!) to retrieve something for someone (again, such details are kind of pointless in the scheme of things). However, this `South American' jungle looks suspiciously like some nice grassy fields in America. Plus the `natives' also look a little Caucasian, considering they are supposed to have lived in the hot jungle all their lives.
The acting isn't all bad, but the dialogue is. Just because the film is set in a wood (sorry, jungle), the writers seem to want to make the characters talk like they're out of Predator. Yes, there's something hunting them, but whereas Predator used a monster that was actually there, the makers of Mandrake spent the entire $2.50 budget on some `creepy' CGI tentacles. Woo.
If you like cheesy monster-munching movies, then you probably know plenty out there which will amuse and entertain (try things like Deep Rising, Tremors, or Grabbers to name but a few). Mandrake is not one of them.
It's always nice when a modern horror film remembers there was once far more to the genre that the round-robin of excruciatingly naff slasher/cannibal/asbo brat/car-crash drama twist-enders that continually chug up the market today, making people think that's all they want. The good new is this is one of the throwbacks to those once-varied times, but looking as much like a 1990s 'Anaconda' adventure, or the much better 'Congo' from 1995, as two seperate teams, including athropologists, trudge jungle-wards to retrieve a valuable dagger from a sacred burial ground. It's the sort of thing that's bound to soil good relations with the indigenous people, and does. But that's only the half of it, as apparently a monstrous tree-being growing from the very soil itself is even angrier.
It's possible there's an ecological message here; that no good things can come from unending intrusion into the last few wild places left, and messing with it. More than likely it's just a fun excuse for some limb-tearing, but said fun doesn't grow any faster than the fake jungle itself (L.A standing in for the Amazon). It's not a bad film, just not a good one. Just not enough surprises to keep it fertile, while the acting ranges from bitty to overly-solemn at some embarrassing junctures, and there's little impression that these people really are under threat, even though attempts to eviscerate them at close quarters alternatively pleases and annoys with its so-so expectancy. The CGI Mandrake is cute, for some seconds imposing initially, and seeing the beast in its entirety more effective than the close-ups of engineered roots and vines signalling an attack, used for much of the movie. The monster's explained presence is pretty good, including some grass-shoots of cleverness virtually absent from the by-the-numbers expedition encounters hostility and death which takes up most of the running time. It's not a movie that outstays its welcome, but it won't grow fondly in the memory.
I'll likely keep it as a curio. Max Martini seems to be channelling the Johnny Messner (from the worthwhile 'Anacondas 2: Hunt For The Blood Orchid')moody capable loner to not always pleasing effect, Betsy Russell (more fun here than in the 'Saw' franchise) makes the best of the dodgy script, even if she appears and talks more like a personal trainer than as the scientist she supposedly is. Benito Martinez makes an averagely huffy single-minded villain, while all the others merge into the moss. Veg out with the killer veg if appetite for a once-common now sadly rarer kind of horror type tickles you, but with roots this shallow, there's no way it can hope to grow anywhere near the deadly soil that spouted 'The Ruins', or even the Aussie 'Man-Thing', which, while nowhere as good as 'The Ruins', is still a more potent display of plant terror than this. No extras on show, not that we needed them, but ten out of ten for the beautiful art on the cover, it'll fool the inquisitively needy even if the film doesn't.