Fantastic Fest: "Mandrill" a compelling 70s inspired revenge flick
“Mandrill” was created in a fast paced whirlwind over the last year, literally so the filmmakers could come back to Austin, Texas and Fantastic Fest, but you would never guess that this movie was conceived and birthed in such a hurry.
After falling in love with the Alamo Drafthouse when they brought their punch-tastic films "Kiltro" and "Mirage Man" to the festival back in 2007, they decided to pull something together to continue to entertain us and I’m glad they did, because even though "Mandrill" has its flaws, it’s still packed with a lot of heart and faces being caved in by the mighty twirling feet and fists of Chilean action star Marko Zaror.
The film opens up with a distinctive 70’s visual style as we watch Marko’s character Mandrill dispatch a gang lord that he’s been hired to bring in dead or ultra dead (he chooses ultra dead). Director Ernesto Espinoza does a great job of pushing the 70’s aesthetic forward without it feeling like some kind of in-joke or visual crutch to lean the low budget of the movie on. You also realize fairly quickly that the 70’s groove is completely motivated by the character of Mandrill because of his obsession with a 70’s action star that, as a young orphan, Mandrill decides to dedicate his entire life emulating.
I absolutely loved the first two acts of “Mandrill”. It’s a compelling story about the best hit man in the world using his profession as a device to eventually lead him to the man that murdered his parents. Along the way Mandrill just decimates anyone that gets in his path with some of the most brutal martial arts on display that I haven’t seen since Marko and Ernesto’s first few films, or even something along the lines of "Ong Bak."
As part of Mandrill’s carefully constructed persona, he’s become the best seducer of women in his country. He succeeds effortlessly with most women, except for the daughter of his next hit. In one of the greatest scenes in seduction history, after failing with every trick in his book to woo this girl, he decides to drop all of his facades and let’s loose at a karaoke/dance bar. It’s a very honest and charming scene and one that opens Mandrill up and exposes him to real feelings that are not emulated from the fictional hero he watched as a child. This opening of his heart turns out to be his kryptonite.
Now, after this story thread of revenge plays itself out to its inevitable conclusion, sadly the movie started to fall apart for me. For whatever reason this carefully constructed and subtle film decides to shift into a satire of the action films Mandrill’s obsessed with. Mirroring scenes from the in-movie action film that Mandrill is consistently watching, the movie devolves into a weird stylistic joke for the remainder of the third act. It was depressing to see that happen considering they built up a lot of real emotion in these characters and had me very invested in the story of Mandrill and this new love in his life. The path they decided to continue on left me feeling cold to whatever they had built up in the previous two acts. I still very much liked the movie, but the ending left a confused and bitter taste in my mouth. It would be equivalent to one of the new Daniel Craig James Bond movies randomly turning into "Austin Powers" at the end. It’s a confusing choice.
Even with the issues I had with the ending, the film is still worth seeking out for its perfectly executed revenge story played out in the first half of the film. For me, “Mandrill” will always end at the first “silver locket showdown”. The rest of the movie beyond that point is just some strange fever dream that I’m going to pretend didn’t happen.
Expectation 8/10 Final Rating 7/10