Spoilers thought this was about a magician.
Witchcraft films can be subversive by their own nature. They forgo the usual tropes of the damsel in distress and step into unknown territory. To its credit, this feature does try to do that and give us an environment in which we are not safe even when society’s regular figures of authority at present. I do feel it doesn’t do much after creating this ambience. It seems to have the intention to escalate the sense of doom to produce some scary payback, but I feel it stops short. Let’s see what we do get.
Mandrake (2022) was directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey. After a long time away, “Bloody” Mary Laidlaw (Derbhle Crotty) has fulfilled her sentence for murder. Her probation officer, Cathy Madden (Deirdre Mullins) is a believer that Mary can be rehabilitated and rejoin society, even if the entire town believe she is a witch. Cathy herself lives alone but maintains a good relationship with her ex-husband police officer Jason Reid (Paul Kennedy) and his new wife Grace (Roisin Gallagher). That is good for Cathy’s and Jason’s timid son Luke (Jude Hill). When two young children disappear in the woods near Mary’s house, Mary is the obvious suspect.
The focus of the film in making Cathy the protagonist, with a young son and her ex being a cop already sets up a certain dynamic. And the problem here is we don’t get much of a focus on Mary herself – a much interesting and subversive character. As a matter the “heroic” duo of Cathy and Matt, which play the more sensible and logical community leaders end up becoming Mary’s unwilling protectors. When the bodies of the two children are found, a mob of townsfolk are out for blood to get Mary and the mysterious horned figure that she seems to command. It is up to officer Matt and probation officer Cathy to protect the so-called sorceress.
However, this ends up being an example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Cathy ends up being captured while Matt gets payment for his just deeds with violence. Inadvertently, their meddling messes things up further while Mary turns out to have all the bad intentions for which the mob would have lynch her. Furthermore, we never get a glimpse into Mary’s psyche or motivations into what she does or why. I don’t want exposition, but some character building would have been nice. I couldn’t help but thinking we should have had a chance to see the world through Mary’s point of view.
Lightly recommended for fans of folk horror and witchcraft. I wish the story would have dedicated more time to the antagonist rather than our two dull would-be heroes of the story. Might be worth a watch if you’re in the mood for things dark and bleak but the production is pretty light on focusing on any subversive elements and would rather show us the traditional do-gooders and their lives. Feels like a little more horror focus could have done wonders.
That will do for now.