Mandrake

Another world premiere hosted by FrightFest at the Glasgow Film Festival is the third of the quartet of Irish films screened at the event following the vampire comedy Let the Wrong One In and the changeling drama You Are Not My Mother and while like that film Mandrake is a modern folk horror, where that was told from the viewpoint of a traumatised child here is a tale of two very different mothers, probation officer Cathy Madden and recently released prisoner “Bloody” Mary Laidlaw.

A notorious case that nobody wants, Mary Laidlaw was convicted of the murder of her husband who had beaten her and set her on fire; convicted regardless of the circumstances, she was pregnant at the time, her child taken from her. Returning to the abandoned Laidlaw Farm, near derelict with no power and only a wood burning stove for heat, when two local children fail to return home one night there is no question towards whom the finger points.

Directed by Lynne Davison from a script by Matt Harvey, Mandrake exists in the twilight between enlightenment and superstition, the gulf between the new ways and the old represented by the stern efficiency of Cathy (Dierdre Mullins) which masks the genuine care with which she undertakes the difficult task of reintegrating offenders and taciturn survivor Mary (Derbhle Crotty), unimpressed by those who threaten her and unafraid of the future, for what more can life do to her?

Cathy’s ex-husband Jason (Paul Kennedy) the police officer leading the search for the missing children, despite Cathy’s absolute refusal to discuss her personal life with any client Mary knows who he is, the third time she has seemingly drawn knowledge from the ether; while she says little, what she utters is devastating, yet for all her impossible insight she will not defend herself or help the investigation.

Mary’s intentions and allegiance as ambiguous and impenetrable as the near darkness in which she exists, by candlelight she grinds herbs and berries in her mortar and pestle to make the contents of a witch bottle, while through the tangled branches of the forest a dark shape moves wearing a crown of twigs, feathers and moss.

Mandrake a distressing yet compelling film built around the unlikely parallels between Cathy and Mary, one endeavours to help heal society and the other mends broken bodies but the cost is high and the methods ruthless, wounds stitched with rough thread and potions forcibly ingested, while elsewhere the villagers fall back on the old methods of removing the unwanted in their midst, rumour and generational animosity considered just cause for a witch hunt.

Glasgow Film Festival concluded on Sunday 13th March

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