Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy was another film I had been anxiously anticipating. After reading the early reviews from its screening at Cannes, I knew this was my kind of movie. When I read things like “synth-heavy score,” “chainsaw fight,” “gory pleasure“ and “Nicolas Cage does a line of coke on a shard of broken glass,” I knew I was going to be in for something special.
Even though I still haven’t watched Panos Cosmatos previous film and debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow, I know his cinematic aesthetics are something I can wholeheartedly appreciate. Nicolas Cage received bountiful praise with reviewers stating that Cosmatos found a perfect part for Cage’s brand of madness. There was also buzz about one particular scene involving Nicolas Cage guzzling down a bottle of vodka in his tighty whities. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what can.
Directed By: Panos Cosmatos
Written By: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn (story by Panos Cosmatos)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, Line Pillet with Richard Brake and Bill Duke as Caruthers
It’s 1983. The American dream has become infected with Reaganomics. A moral panic swept the nation concerning heavy-metal, drugs, pornography and satanic cults. But these concerns seem far away to lumberjack Red Miller (Cage) and his artist girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Riseborough) who live in the outskirts of society in a secluded house deep inside the woods.
Even though Miller worries about their fragility, especially living in such isolation, Mandy wants to stay there in order to be close to nature. She seems to have a special connection with small animals. She cries when she finds one dead. A painful childhood memory proved her everlasting empathy to small animals.
Mandy spends her free time reading the literature of Lenora Tor (who doesn’t exist as far as I could find out) as well as books about astronomy. Miller is mesmerized by her stream-of-consciousness musing.
But their tranquil existence comes in mortal jeopardy when Jeremiah Sand (Roache), a leader of an insidious cult known as Children of the New Dawn, becomes infatuated by Mandy. Sand makes a deal with a group of demonic bikers, who look like they come straight out of a Hellraiser film, to kidnap Mandy and Miller and from that point on, things become increasingly (and gorily) unhinged.
One of the Most Beautiful Films of the Year
Mandy is not an intellectual exercise. It’s a film to experience. You need to give yourself to it. It’s about the feeling of each scene and less about the plot and logic. This is not an excuse for a poor narrative, but this an understanding of the author’s intent.
Part of its hypnotic beauty lies in Benjamin Loeb’s gorgeous cinematography. Every scene is beautiful to look at, even if what happens on screen is gruesome and disturbing. Even when it seems like we have entered hell, when we are up, close and personal with hideous demons, we can’t look away. This is a beautiful world. Even when the innocent are sacrificed for the ego’s of false messiahs.
Similar to how Cosmatos stated that his previous film, Beyond the Black Rainbow, was based on a series of painted video-tape covers he saw as a child, Mandy looks like a series of Heavy Metal album covers come to life. It feels like Cosmatos let his imagination run amok, imagining the stories behind these CD covers. Through his direction, Loeb created an extraordinary visual experience.
While this film will undoubtedly be ignored by the Academy — the Academy tends to look down at any film featuring a chainsaw due — the cinematography deserves all the acclaim it can get. It’s, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful films of the year.
One of Nicolas Cage’s Greatest Performances
Nicolas Cage has become somewhat of a joke in recent years. Ever since the beginning of his career he made some eccentric performance choices — just watch his performance choices in Peggy Sue Got Married if you don’t believe me — but over the years, his brand of overacting had become the subject of countless giffs and youtube videos (”not the bees!”). Every now and then he appears in a decent movie, but most of the time, such as in David Gordon Green’s Joe, but most of the time he appears in schlock just so he can pay off his reported extensive tax debt.
Even so, I’ve always remained a fan of him. Not every actor can overact well — it’s a talent on its own. But Cage has never been a one-trick pony. He has brought many layers to the many characters he portrayed in his expansive career. And his performance in Mandy, though many people will undoubtedly snicker at his many insane outbursts, is one of them.
In the first half of the film Cage is subdued. He’s a quiet man who likes to be around his girlfriend Mandy. When demonic madness ensues in the second act of the film, he inevitably loses his mind. In order to fulfill his mission and hunt down these demons, he must go through hell. And while he’s there, he must shed himself of his humanity. He must become a wild beast.
The scene that had most reviewers talking is when he gulps down a bottle of vodka in his underwear, occasionally pausing in howl out his grief. It’s both hilarious and moving. It’s no joke, even though the absurdity makes it funny.
Cage stated that his performance was partly based on slasher-icon Jason Voorhees. Just like Voorhees, Red Miller is a force of nature, that will stop at nothing to get his killing done. But unlike Voorhees, Cage doesn’t wear a mask. His face is covered in blood through most the second half. His eyes are bursting with ferocity as he slashes his way through one demon at a time.
Though I’m sure many other actors could have given a good performance as Red Miller, this role just seemed perfect for him, even tailor-made. This is Cage at his best. This is the redemption of the painful schlock he did before. If it means he has go through more tired schlock just to get him to this point, than so be it. Bring it on.
Let’s Not Forget About Andrea Riseborough
While Nicolas Cage is the star of this film, I have to give a shout-out to Andrea Riseborough who’s essentially the lead in the first half of the film.
She’s deeply empathetic, close to the nature and weeps at the sight of an innocent death. Judging by the scar on her face, she’s someone who went through some physical abuse in the past. We don’t get to know that much about her past, but we don’t need to. We can fill in the blanks ourselves.
Without spoiling anything, a character like her could have easily been a male’s fantasy — especially with those rock T-shirts. But she isn’t. She’s a real character.
She’s a daydreamer who needs to play around in her own world, which is inspired by cosmological spirituality. Her lover, Miller, provides her that necessary space and loves to listen to her. She’s certainly not a frail woman though. When she comes faces to face with danger, she doesn’t cower. She laughs right in the face of the reaper.
I’ve always considered a massive talent who is sometimes wasted in roles that are beneath her. Luckily, Cosmatos and fellow screenwriter Aaron Stewart-Ahn give her something to work with.
There are also two neat cameos from the great Bill Duke (whose voice is always a joy to listen to) and Richard Brake.
Farewell, Jóhann Jóhansson
On the 9th of February this year, we sadly lost the musical talents of Icelandic composer Jóhan Jóhannson. Jóhannson’s career as a film-composer unfortunately didn’t last very long. It started in 2004 with DÍs and it ended with 2018’s Mary Magdalene and Mandy. While I can’t comment on the soundtrack of Mary Magdalene (though I’m sure it’s fantastic) his musical contributions to Mandy is an essential part of why this film is so good.
The soundtrack to Mandy is ethereal and dreamlike. Just like in his other soundtracks, it’s unconventional. It doesn’t sound like his other cinematic work. Just compare this to his contributions to Sicario or Arrival. There are none of the traditional beats of movie soundtracks. It switches from synth to beats of heavy metal. It gives us the otherworldly vibe necessary to do the weird universe of Mandy justice. Just like the film’s cinematography by Benjamin Loeb, Mandy‘s soundtrack is also one of the year’s best.
Jóhannson died far too young. While his death is tragic, he does leave behind an abundance of quality music.
And as I’m writing this, I’m listening to his music. I suggest you do this too.
Nicolas Cage with a Chainsaw… Need I Say More?
I’m a sucker for a good chainsaw fight. We don’t have enough of them in film. One of the best ones was in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, with a demented Dennis Hopper going toe-to-toe with Leatherface. Now I wouldn’t say the Chainsaw fight in Mandy tops that, but it’s certainly close.
It’s unfortunately rather brief but satisfying enough. A chainsaw and Nicolas Cage seemed to be made for each other. Here’s hoping that Nicolas Cage will wield another chainsaw again some day.
A Cartoon Villain
Linus Roache gives a committed performance as the film’s central villain, Jeremiah Sand. There’s nothing wrong with his performance. But if would nitpick on one aspect of the film, which I consider an absolute masterpiece, it would be the way his character was written.
Sand is too much of a cartoon villain. I wish his character was more menacing instead of laughable. You never get a sense of his supposed greatness or why his followers are so loyal to him. He’s a pathetic human with a delusional sense of grandeur.
Roach does a great job and the character does spur some laughs, especially in his final confrontation with both Mandy and Red Miller. But I do wish the character was perhaps closer to Charles Manson or like Father (played with exceptional menace by Gene Jones) from Ti West’s The Sacrament who was heavily based on Jim Jones.
Still, it’s a minor complaint, and I can only respect the man for his dedication.
Whether or not you like Mandy can be judged by the first few minutes. It’s not an action film. Even gorehounds will have to wait a solid hour for any violence. You have to get with it. Follow the madness all the way through. I went with it and had the time of my life.
It’s beautiful to listen to, and beautiful to look at. It’s gruesome at times, and other times hilarious and intimately moving. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year.
Thank you for reading! What did you think about Mandy? Comment down below!
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