Fantastic Fest Review: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza's Mandrill
by Alex Billington
September 28, 2009
I always love to be surprised at film festivals and luckily today that happened. I caught a great Chilean film titled Mandrill, which just so happens to be filmmaker Ernesto Díaz Espinoza's follow-up to Mirageman. Espinoza pretty much made Mandrill as a film he wanted to be able to come back to Fantastic Fest with again and debut. For whatever reasons, going into this, I had no clue what to expect. What I discovered was a badass (and I'm not using that word lightly) action thriller that mixes James Bond, spaghetti westerns, and 70's exploitation in an incredibly entertaining way. It's hands down one of most fun films I've seen here.
Mandrill stars Chilean actor and martial artist Marko Zaror as Mandrill, a Bond-like hitman without the British finesse. The story is fairly simple - when he gets hired to take someone out he realizes it's the same man that killed his parents and now he wants revenge. However before he can get to him, he must fall in love with his lovely daughter first (played by Celine Reymond). Oddly, there are some twists and turns, and it doesn't end the way you think it will, which was actually a relief because I was concerned it was becoming just too formulaic. It loses a bit of steam by the third act, but it still delivers with never a dull moment.
I actually really loved this film. I'm not sure if it was the energy gel that we were told to slam right before the screening or just my innate love for anything and everything Bond (or anything that mimics Bond), but I had a blast. It's basically a crazy 70's exploitation feature packed with just about everything: lots of martial arts action, poker, silencers, colts, hot women, fast cars, everything Bond has, but straight out of Chile (and Peru) instead. Zaror did his own stunts and prefers to fight hand-to-hand than whip out a gun and can even disco dance, too. There's a great balance of humor and action and plot and it all flows perfectly together.
Sure it has a few minor flaws surrounding its budget (meaning it was shot on digital video), an occasionally weak story (but who cares, he's kickin' ass), and other cheesy effects (anime style freeze frame transitions that were used way too often). But that said, it's still a damn fine action film, especially coming from Chile. I admire Zaror's performance (and martial arts skills) more than I do Espinoza's direction, but that's hardly a problem. I can only imagine how much better this would've been if they had shot on film and removed some of those cheesy transitions. Patch up those leaks and this would've be one of my new foreign cult favorites!
Fantastic Fest Rating: 9 out of 10