REVIEW: Mandy (2018)

The Cage is opened in one of the year’s most lauded indie efforts. Dylan is here to give it a look.

I saw Mandy at 2:20 in the afternoon. When I and the audience left, sunlight burst through the doors on the last hot day of the year, and the first few commuters headed to the bus stop, dazed. This was maybe not the best time to see a movie where Nicolas Cage lights a cigarette from the severed, flaming head of a psychotic biker. Especially when this isn’t the most startling image or event in the film.

Mandy is far more than the slasher gorno fare this would suggest. This is an acid-soaked trip into psychedelic visuals and madness which doesn’t let up, even when tigers are howling at the moon!

The film follows Red Miller (Cage) and his titular partner, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), who live near Camp Crystal Lake (yes, really). When a gang of cultists and a psycho biker gang turn their life upside down, Red goes on a bloody rampage with crossbows, chainsaws, broken glass, and a hand-smelted axe.

This rather simplistic plot is put through a mangle of trippy cinematography, esoteric shot choices, and music from a festival in R’lyeh. Metal culture blends with fantasy in frame after frame. Titles and locations have the look of Iron Maiden album covers, and Mandy reads weird fantasy novels and draws opulent vistas in her spare time. This feels like the source of everything crazy in the rest of the movie.

Something as simple as a conversation between two people in bed is a dreamy light show. A campfire trip is both irrelevant to the longer narrative and like a vision from a satanic ritual. Tension and horror builds via an assault on your senses, one that attacks you in the most pedestrian of scenes. This film is a chameleon, ever-changing in tone and look, building up a holistic nightmare vision that you might have had in the early 1980s whilst watching late night television – even down to the adverts.

Rather than becoming too slow for horror fans, or too gory for an arthouse crowd, Mandy has a unique feel, which sets it apart good or bad, far beyond the boundaries of something relatively horrible and esoteric like Switchblade Romance. There aren’t many films that have a biker on acid with a knife for a penis which can also be considered artistically-challenging.

This isn’t violence with a couple of After Effects put over the top. Director Panos Cosmatos is pushing each shot to create some incredible results. One shot of the cult leader’s face fading out with Mandy’s is simple but astonishing. A scene with a light sparking in the darkness contains the biggest sense of dread I have had in the cinema for a long time. Even if you dislike the plot and placing, on a pure craftsmanship level, this film has to be admired.

Those coming for a gorefest will have to wait a while, but you won’t be disappointed. If anything, I was surprised by how long Cosmatos keeps the violence at bay before becoming over-the-top, although this is still a flick with a chainsaw fight. Except for one notable and indeed crucial example, grim revenge is always played on the silly side.

Of course, a film with Nicolas Cage couldn’t be discussed without mentioning how Cage this film’s Cage is. He carries a lot of the weight, and like the gore, his performance is a slow burn, but when we get there, his role is typically crazy. He’s even set up in a glorious one-take shot where he slugs vodka, screams and trashes the place. His fans will get their value for money with this one scene alone.

You are dipping your toe into something special with Mandy. It’s like discovering a pool of rainbow-coloured water, and depending on your outlook, the idea of swimming in the colourful-but-bizarre waters might horrify or delight you. At the very least, Cosmatos proves himself to be a supremely talented filmmaker, who can build tension with incredible audio and visual landscapes and turn what could have been the dullest of dull revenge flicks into a unique cinematic experience. He deserves your respect at the very least. Although some may find it hard to sit through, and this certainly isn’t a nice relaxing trip, those who have any interest in the weirder ends of cinema must find the time… even if it’s still sunny outside.

Dylan Spicer

Dylan graduated from Brighton Film School and and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He has worked on award-winning short and feature films. He is currently experimenting with Narradu Memories, and his online audio drama giantcannibals.co.uk.

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