Movie Review: ‘The Mandela Effect’

Review by James Lindorf

“The Mandela Effect” is Writer and Director David Guy Levy’s sophomore film. He is following up on the 2013 horror movie “Would You Rather” with this story of grief and a search for meaning in the world after the death of a child. Brendan and his wife Claire are reeling after the passing of their young daughter. The formerly happy couple are struggling to keep themselves afloat in a sea of grief, and their relationship is starting to show signs of strain. Claire, broken-hearted but pushing forward, is ready to get back to work, to pack up Sam’s room and reconnect with her husband. Brendan, on the other hand, is continuing to spiral and finally finds something to focus his energy on after looking at one of Sam’s Berenstain Bears books. He becomes obsessed with events that have been collectively misremembered by thousands of people, a phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect. “The Mandela Effect” stars Charlie Hofheimer (Would You Rather), Aleksa Palladino (The Irishman), Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham), Madeleine McGraw (Ant-Man and the Wasp), and Clarke Peters (The Wire). After its world premiere at the Other Worlds Film Festival, as part of their Orbiter program on October 23rd, 2019, “The Mandela Effect” will be distributed by Gravitas Ventures theatrically in LA and on VOD December 6th 2019.

Though it may be named after the former South African President Nelson Mandela, the foremost example of the Mandela Effect is the popular children’s book series The Berenstain Bears. A significant number of people, including myself, would have sworn that the books were called The BerenSTEIN Bears, but this is not the case. It is and has always been Berenstain. Most people, when faced with this type of information, make a statement of surprise, shrug their shoulders, and move on with their lives. Others may be more inclined to conspiracy theories look at them as a sign or artifact proving alternate realities, time travel, or that our world is a simulation a la “The Matrix.” Bernard would fall into the latter category. From the moment he discovers the book has changed, he is off and running down the rabbit hole of obscure internet searches. There are plenty of times an 80-minute runtime works in a movie’s favor, but pushing the film as little as ten extra minutes would have allowed Bernard’s transition to be expanded and to feel more natural. He goes from 0 to 100 in one caffeine-fueled night, and then the audience is asked to be on the side of the rambling mad man and not his distraught wife, who feels like she is now losing her husband. It is a nearly impossible task and puts the film behind the 8-ball less than 20 minutes.

Charlie Hofheimer has several good moments but struggles at times with the dramatic material, and by the end of the film, his performance is merely ordinary. Madeleine McGraw is a good child actor. She isn’t tasked with much to do here, but her scenes with Hofheimer feel very natural, which is a testament to her and Levy. Without a doubt, the best performance of the film is given by Aleksa Palladino. While Claire may not be the central character, her story varies the most from the beginning to the end, demanding a strong performance.

There are many quality elements in “The Mandela Effect,” and Levy shouldn’t have to wait six years for his next project. However, it can’t beat the reality-bending greatness of “The Matrix” or even “The Butterfly Effect,” and more often than not, I found myself wishing I was in a reality where I was watching something else.

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