A small town in Northern Ireland is turned upside down when a notorious local murderer is released from her life sentence. Mandrake is a moody crime drama that invokes Irish folklore to tell a story about the bonds of mothers to their children, and the bonds between mothers. Run to Shudder, don’t walk.
Probation officer and single mother, Cathy Madden (Deirdre Mullins), is assigned to a notorious parolee, Bloody Mary Laidlaw (Derbhle Crotty), a local woman infamous for hanging her abusive husband. Cathy is unfazed by the assignment. Having been in the business a long time, she’s seen her fair share of wild behavior but, Cathy is taken aback when Mary takes a liking to her and starts displaying odd behavior that corroborates certain whispered rumors about the woman. On the day Mary is released, two children go missing, sending the town into a spiral of panic and sparking a modern-day witchhunt.
“Mandrake is a moody watch that […feels] like a product of Northern Ireland through and through.”
Cathy believes every client deserves an opportunity for rehabilitation and she shows empathy to Mary even when she’s afraid of her. While the whole town is convinced that Mary is involved in the disappearance of the children, Cathy remains firm in her belief that the town is biased and paranoid. Mary’s interest in Cathy as a fellow scorned woman is equally as interesting. While the plot of the film leaves a lot to the imagination (which in some films, can be challenging), Mandrake doesn’t spoon-feed, and it doesn’t care if you can keep up. Ambiguity aside, one thing is abundantly clear: these women are connected for better or worse.
Mandrake is a moody watch that would be right at home in a BBC binge session, but its Irish niche lens keeps it from having mass appeal. To fully understand how punk rock this film is, it serves to have the context of folklore. While most of us outside of Ireland have heard about mandrake root in fantasy franchises like Harry Potter, the actual legends surrounding it are much darker. The mandrake is an anthropomorphic root that, in ancient times, was said to grow from the blood (bodily fluids, actually) of hanged men and grant fertility to barren women. On first viewing, not having that context, the film seemed lacking. On second viewing, it brought the whole thing home.
Because the story begins like a gritty procedural, you expect there to be hidden elements of the plot. But, the story doesn’t try to hide information from the audience. There is no slow reveal, it doesn’t need it. There is so much still left to the imagination even when presented with so much visual information. This is what makes Mandrakefeel like a product of Northern Ireland through and through.
I needed to watch it twice to take everything in and I could still catch it a third time. I also think it’s worth noting how refreshing it is to see a film that centers on a female perspective that feels authentic. In a genre saturated with revenge films, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a film with equal parts nuance and dark whimsy. There is a lot to unpack and you’ll have fun doing it.
“I needed to watch it twice to take everything in and I could still catch it a third time”
Directed by Lynn Davison from a screenplay by Matt Harvey, Madrake stars Deirdre Mullins (The Drowning), and Derbhle Crotty (Notes On A Scandal), with Seamus O’Hara (The Northman), Jude Hill (Belfast), and Roisin Gallagher (The Dry) rounding out the cast. This moody folk horror hits Shudder on November 10, 2022. Be sure to share your own thoughts on Mandrake with us over on Twitter or in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord!
Mandrake is a moody watch that would be right at home in a BBC binge session, but its Irish niche lens keeps it from having mass appeal. I needed to watch it twice to take everything in and I could still catch it a third time. I also think it's worth noting how refreshing it is to see a film that centers on a female perspective that feels authentic. In a genre saturated with revenge films, it's a breath of fresh air to see a film with equal parts nuance and dark whimsy. There is a lot to unpack and you'll have fun doing it.