When I was approached about checking out the sequel to the 2018 indie comedy horror film Mandao of the Dead I admit I could barely remember having seen that one, it just didn't seem to have stuck around in my mind. That is until a re-read of my review refreshed things. Mandao Returns is the new film in the series and once again comes from director/writer/actor Scott Dunn and features the same cast of actors reprising their roles. What this film does is very similar to the first one, it tells a fully formed story, but one that just feels chilled and low stakes, making it strangely comforting to watch.
Jay Mandao (Scott Dunn) has a special gift, he is able to effortlessly astral project, and with this he is even able to time travel. Since his nephew Jackson (Sean McBride) burnt down his apartment while trying to make 'popcorn soup' they have moved into the house of Cousin Andy (Sean Liang - American Horror Story). It is here that Jay comes to be contacted by the spirit of famous actress Aura Garcia (Jenny Lorenzo). She knows of his powers of time travel and wants to hire him to travel back in time to prevent her recent accidental death by drug overdose. However as people usually find out, changing the past is never simple and it is never clear just what the ramifications of doing so will be...
There are a good cast of characters here and I found it nicer than I thought it would be to be reunited with these. Reading my review of the first movie I mentioned how irritating I found Jackson to be. This time around I found him to be a lot more bearable. Out of all the characters he is the most comedic in that he is quite dense. It was nice to see Liang have a much larger role than previously, he is integral to the unfolding plot. Elsewhere Gina Gomez reprises her role as Fer and Alexandre Chen comes back as the spirit of Jay's father. Lorenzo and Jim O'Doherty round out the small cast and both these actors fit in well to the weird vibe of the film world.
Astral projection is used here mainly as a plot device to explain time travel. Much of the plot revolves around doing this and it is where all the unexpected moments come from. I like time travel when it is done competently and here, seeing how doing this messes things up so much, meant it felt done correctly. That the whole story occurs due to the mistakes and bad decisions of the protagonists meant this felt like another chilled film where the stakes are in a general sense low. Being able to prevent characters deaths by time travelling means we get to see some violent death sequences that are stronger than you might expect for a comedy horror. I was impressed with the editing effects used for both the nightmarish montage sequences, and the way the astral world is presented.
Mandao Returns may well be more of the same, but with so many returning actors it felt like this was better established. The humour is often bizarre rather than laugh out loud funny, and the story is simple, yet as a movie to put on to just forget about the real world this works as pleasant escapism. Mandao Returns is out on Amazon Prime and it is hoped that in the future Mandao will be turned into a series.