Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose, starring Simon Pegg, is a quiet and intelligent meditation on the concept of truth and why people believe in the supernatural.
Not every haunting sees a talking mongoose as the apparition. In the Autumn of 1931, the Irving family – James, Margaret, and teenage daughter Viorrey- spotted an animal on their secluded Isle of Man farm. James described the animal in a letter as “similar in appearance to a weasel, with small body, long busy tail, flat nose and yellow in colour.” From then on, the family would be awakened in the night by sounds coming from behind the walls. Soon enough, the specter was simulating the human voice, repeating nursery rhymes, singing along to records, and conversing with the Irving family. It introduced itself as Gef, an “extra clever mongoose.” His behavior with the Irvings ranged from playful, singing a bawdy version of ‘Home on the Range,’ to menacing, threatening that “I could kill you, but I won’t.” Many neighbors would claim to have had encounters with Gef around the nearby village.
Such a weird case caught the attention of tabloid reporters and paranormal investigators alike. Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose, directed by Adam Sigal, is inspired by one such investigation. Nandor Fodor, played by a wonderfully restrained Simon Pegg, is a terse and arrogant parapsychologist, hoping to prove the existence of the supernatural through the scientific method. He is helped by his assistant Anne (Minnie Driver). The role played by Anne in the story is all too typical for women: the loyal and long-suffering helpmate to a Great Man. Driver plays the reductive character with an assured intelligence and a tonality that provides Anne with depth and shading. Pegg and Driver are believable as colleagues who have known each other for years and developed an understanding.
Fodor learns of the talking mongoose (Neil Gaiman) from a fellow paranormal investigator, Harry Price (Christopher Lloyd). Intrigued as to why someone would make up such an outlandish tale, Fodor and Anne travel to the British Isle to either meet a talking mongoose or catch the Irving family in a lie. When the action moves to the Isle of Man, the movie does not devolve into tracing Fodor’s investigation step-by-step. It takes a more interesting approach and instead focuses on the characters’ emotional reactions to their experiences.
The fact that the specter that the Irvings claim to be troubled by is a mongoose and not a wailing widow or a little child provides Nandor Fodor with a feeling of freshness and singularity. The movie has a good sense of the ridiculous, with a sense of humor that manages to be whimsical and not cute. The sequences in which the disembodied voice of Gef speaks to the characters have a genuine feeling of eeriness, through the nursery rhyme lilt of the voice and the uncanniness of being unable to tell where a sound is coming from.
Intelligently, Nandor Fodor never provides a definitive answer as to whether Gef the Talking Mongoose was a hoax or not. It is much more interested in the question of how truth and reality are determined, and the psychology behind why a person would believe in the supernatural. If one villager believes that the high-pitched voice that spoke to him as he was walking home from the pub at night was a ghost, and another believes that the specter is a delusion, and both are in earnest, which one is correct? Which one is a lie? Nandor Fodor understands that sometimes the questions are just as important as the answers.
Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose will be released in US theaters on September 1, 2023.