Back in 2018 Scott Dunn’s Mandao of the Dead was released. A quirky comedy about astral projection, time travel and murder it quickly picked up a following. A big enough one that it spawned a sequel, Mandao Returns. And, after a brief delay caused by an overprotective spam filter, I got to check it out. Even with most of the cast and crew returning can they make lightning strike twice?
After a mishap involving popcorn soup, Jay (Scott Dunn) and his nephew Jackson (Sean McBride) are crashing at Cousin Andy’s (Sean Liang, American Horror Story) place. Andy is working a fake medium racket and presses his two houseguests into service. Ted Williams (Jim O’Doherty, Basket Case 3) needs to talk to his recently deceased client Aura Garcia (Jenny Lorenzo, Geekgasm). Ted sees through Andy’s act, but Jay’s psychic abilities put him in touch with Aura.
She wants him to use his abilities to astral project back in time and stop her from overdosing. It’s only after they accomplish this they find out she’s planning on sacrificing Ted in order to join The Population, a cult of powerful Hollywood figures. And the harder they try to fix their mistake, the worse they make things.
Mandao Returns has the same basic plotline as its predecessor, but gives the material its own, somewhat darker, spin. Not only does the person they’re saving have ulterior motives, those around them can’t be trusted either. Fer (Gina Gomez Dunn) is back, but she has a connection to Aura’s death. And Andy’s greedy scheming leads to further problems and death.
Thankfully this is all dealt with via increasingly outrageous schemes that prevent the film from getting too serious. Which is good because it could have easily gotten bogged down in some of its grimmer plot twists. Instead it’s a manic ride through the three days before Christmas where nothing is what it appears to be. And even the ability to travel through time isn’t a guarantee of success, or survival.
The whole astral projection/time travel thing is largely left unexplained, which is probably for the better as any set of rules for things like that end up causing problems with the plot eventually. And since Mandao Returns isn’t a heavy drama they aren’t really needed. Which leaves the script free to set up situations like Jay and Jackson having to possess each other’s body at one point. Dunn and McBride and dialogue do an excellent job of mixing their own and each other’s mannerisms and really sell the switch. Dialogue like “I can’t believe I was inside you.” delivered obliviously just adds to the fun.
And fun is what Mandao Returns is really about. It’s not out to be intensely frightening, but it has plenty of scares. It has its share of humour, but it it doesn’t let the jokes stop it from being scary or suspenseful when it needs to be. Think of it as a more adult Scooby Doo, only without a dog but with better defined characters who actually have feelings toward each other.
I do wish we had found out a bit more about The Population. It had me thinking of the cult from Starry Eyes, and while I like that film, it would also be a great target for parody. Maybe they can return in the third film, after all they’re probably not happy with the gang meddling in their business, something one of the two scenes mixed in with the credits implies.