Mandy is set in the primal wilderness of 1983 where Red Miller, a broken and haunted man hunts an unhinged religious sect who slaughtered the love of his life.
September 14th, 2018
Take a healthy dose of your anti-seizure meds before you sit down to screen this next film (that is in no way an actual medical suggestion – merely there to make my point). Visually, this film is a great big old acid trip.
Even as I start to put down my thoughts on this particular forthcoming (and highly anticipated film), I’m not sure how I’m going to end up scoring it.
Mandy is a new psychedelic horror/thriller/revenge film from writer/director Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow). It premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, to mostly positive acclaim.
Not that I want to be the odd man out, but as we continue into my discussion of the piece, I will make note of some of the problems I had with it.
In other words, it ain’t perfect.
It’s 1983. Red (Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage) and his wife, the titular Mandy (Oblivion’s Andrea Riseborough) live a very solitary existence in a seemingly self-built home in the middle of a dense forest. Red is a logger and Mandy a fantasy illustrator. One fateful evening, Mandy is taking a walk, enjoying a smoke on a rural road. She is passed by a local cult (in a van, naturally), headed by Jeremiah (Linus Roache of Batman Begins). Jeremiah takes an interest in her, and so makes the call to have her kidnapped. The rest of the film follows Red as he seeks revenge for the wrongs perpetrated on him and his beloved Mandy.
Without a doubt, Mandy is one of the richest, most interesting and original films (from a visual standpoint) to come along in a good long while. The wacky camerawork, deep and disturbing color pallet and trippy visual tricks – are what make this film special.
This film is a “juicy kill every other minute” kind of film. The gore effects and special make-up work are bar none – as good as you get. They’re grotesque, squishy and approach the over-the-top level of something out of Evil Dead 2.
There’s a shortage of dialogue in the film, and so I don’t feel like Cage was used to his full potential. I’m thinking back to his amazing performance in this year’s Mom and Dad (check out my glowing review here) – and while there are some deeply emotional and painful (read: well done) reactions from Cage here, his performance amounts to a lot of staring, grunting and wide-eyed craziness. I mean, it’s good staring, grunting and wide-eyed craziness, but I wanted/expected more from this veteran acting master. But it’s not Cage’s wrong-doing. The script simply doesn’t call on Cage to do much beyond said staring, grunting and wide-eyed craziness.
The most impressive acting work comes from Roache as the cult-leader. He’s truly terrifying (in a Manson-esque way). His extensive monologue (which includes some freaky face-morphing) to Mandy somewhere at the film’s center is nothing short of award-worthy. And his reaction to Mandy’s hysterical laughter is one of the only times in the film, where we get a deeper sense of a character’s backstory. Nothing’s explained, per se – but we know there’s a lot of inner turmoil tearing Jeremiah apart.
Showing up in an excellent cameo is Predator’s Bill Duke (“Anytime”). While it’s a treat to see this beloved character actor (and he’s fantastic here) – his appearance is another indicator (at least to me) of the film’s bigger problem. Who is he? How does Red know him? Why does he house these particular items which were obviously important to Red before? In this particular case, I want some answers.
And with that… As genuinely beautiful as the film is visually – it offers up an opportunity for me to pull out this old standard, “More style than substance”.
Before I’m trolled to death by the absolute lovers of this film, it’s only my personal preference. I like at least a little bit of character and some semblance of plot paired up with some stunningly gorgeous eye-candy. That’s just me.
I mean, the story’s as basic an idea as can be. Man’s love is murdered by weird cult and he goes on a revenge spree. And that really is all there is to fill the 121 minute run-time.
And despite my adoration for the cinematography (the lighting is absolutely delicious), the film could have been trimmed – simply by nixing some of the over-used slow motion. There’s a lot of it, folks.
That’s not to say that I was ever bored. To see some serious comeuppance sprayed across the screen – in such an artistically mind-blowing way – yes, that gave me pleasure.
And there are some potentially nifty details which never come to light. Mandy has a scar below one of her eyes, and it’s never explained. Why do they live in the middle of nowhere – what events brought them to this pass? Who are these people?
I’m not a “spoon feed me” type audience member, but there are certainly art-house leaning films which still have a more traditional story. I think it’s my background as a fiction writer. Character has always been key to me. And there are only the hints of who these people are. And it’s just not enough (again, for me).
The score from the late Oscar-nominated composer Johan Johannsson (to whom the film is dedicated) is a true thing of beauty. It’s rough and filled with ‘80s nostalgia and it always felt like an asset – making a name for itself, but never becoming a distraction.
Oh, and Richard Brake of Rob Zombie’s 31 also makes a cameo appearance.
Here we are at the end of the review. I’ve had time to think it through. To hem and haw over what I liked and didn’t like about Mandy. I’m leaning toward a 3.5-star review, but ultimately – the film is so visually mesmerizing, that I’ll move it up to a very respectable 4-star score.
Visuals alone? A perfect score, with no hesitation. Add in the wispy whisperings of a “story” and it knocks the whole thing down a peg or two.
If, like me, you need more than “wow, that’s sure pretty”, then you may well have a similar reaction.
Style over substance. AMAZING, HYPNOTIC style over substance, but still…
And again, you’ve been warned – potential migraine material (flashing lights, strobe effects) are constantly present throughout.
Mandy is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on September 14th, 2018.