Movie Review: “Mandy” – Arthouse Meets Grindhouse

Written by Jeremiah Greville October 10, 2018

Mandy (2018)

Like a masochist enjoying a surprise kick to the groin, I’m bowled over by Mandy and still recovering. This movie is an absolute sucker punch. I went in with only scattered internet buzz and came out with bruises. Mandy is a violent, sparsely-written, psychedelic revenge fantasy fed through an epic-rock Instagram filter. It’s a bloody tie-dyed t-shirt lit by a lava lamp and set on fire. It’s an acid trip set to your dad’s favourite record playing on repeat. Mandy is as gorgeous as it is nuts. And if you’ve got the inclination, you definitely have to see it. Due to its limited release, I ended up watching the film online. You can view it for a price on VOD or Youtube, but if you get the chance, try to see it in theatres. And bring witnesses, because insanity demands company.

Mandy stars Nicolas Cage as Red, a logger who lives in the woods with his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). When the couple are attacked by a deranged cult, Red embarks upon a violent journey to exact his revenge. Despite the fact that the setup comprises the first half of the film, there’s very little extra narrative here. Mandy is all atmosphere and attitude. The script is an afterthought here. There are long stretches without dialogue or even obvious plot advancement, yet the film never feels without purpose. Co-writer and director Panos Cosmatos has created a world on the border between fantasy and reality. Walking that knife’s edge is one of the things that makes Mandy so special.

“Let us be so very special together.”

The film begins with a quote about rock and roll that seems out of place with pretty much everything that follows. As a narrative statement, it makes little sense. But as a larger thesis statement, it works. Cosmatos’ Mandy is an uncompromising and divisive work of art, the sort of material that wears its influences on its sleeve while inspiring future generations. The first half is a slow, deliberately-paced, contemplative emotional exploration. The second half features a friggin’ chainsaw fight. There are biker gangs ripped straight from Hellraiser and gentle scenes of people reading and snuggling by the fire. It’s hallucinogenic and completely unhinged, yet never out of control. The film does what it does, audience expectation be damned, and that’s probably the most rock and roll thing about it.

Mandy (2018)

Mandy is visceral and haunting, with an aesthetic that’s reflected in every element of its design, from the 1983 setting, to the synth-heavy soundtrack composed by the late Johann Johannsson (to whom the film is dedicated). Several scenes — and even whole sequences — are shot through extreme red or green filters. The effect is uncanny, and gives each scene its own emotional footprint. While Mandy does feature explicit dream sequences, the entire film plays with the line between reality and fantasy. Yes, this is definitely a movie where fan theories will inevitably run amok. It could all be a dream. The entire thing could be sent in purgatory. The film could be a commentary on contemporary film-making. On and on. Be prepared for a bevy of hot takes over the next couple years.

“I’m going hunting.”

But what isn’t a hot take is the praise for Nicolas Cage as Red. It’s been quite a long time since the prolific actor has enjoyed acclaim to this level, and it’s well deserved. Cage as Red is allowed the full range he’s known for, delivering quite moments and unhinged madness with aplomb. But it’s the subtleties in his performance — yes, they exist — that make it compelling. There’s vulnerability in his rage, grief and desperation in his calm. He’s definitely not phoning this one in. Whether Mandy signals a resurgence in his career or not, it’s a reminder that the Oscar-winner can still bring it when it counts. If you’re a Nicolas Cage fan, either ironically or genuinely, you’ll find something to dig in this film.

Mandy (2018)

Andrea Riseborough is fantastic as Mandy, and brings an hypnotic, otherworldly charm to what could have been a thankless, throwaway role. Linus Roache is also compellingly creepy as cult leader Jeremiah Sand. His monologues and rants are highlights throughout. Riseborough and Roache are each the subject of some of Mandy’s trippiest scenes, and both excel at bringing the dreamlike narrative to life. While they don’t share as much screen time as Cage, they provide a fitting backdrop for him to play against. Mandy and Sand are one with the world of the film, while Cage’s Red is strikingly at odds with it. This is reflected in the way that each character is filmed. To say more would give away some of the film’s best sequences.

“Rock and roll me when I’m dead.”

But Mandy won’t appeal to everyone. It’s a film that’s exactly what it wants to be. Rock and roll! Some audiences simply won’t enjoy it. Are you interested in the chainsaw fight? Be prepared for an hour of quiet introspection first. Are you there for the arthouse sensibilities? Be prepared for psychedelic violence in the second half. Mandy is too serious for most schlock film audiences and too outlandish for most mainstream film enthusiasts. It’s an experience, to be sure, but a compromise as well. Think of it like Stairway to Heaven — the first half is all melody, the second half is hard rock. Mandy is not a film that can be taken in increments. You have to experience it all to appreciate any of it, and some viewers won’t be up for the ride.

Mandy (2018)

But if you are, then I suggest you strap in and take it. Mandy is a film that deserves to be seen and talked about, and will certainly be remembered as this year’s Fury Road. It’s unflinching and unrelenting, the kind of singular uncompromising vision that most filmmakers dream of achieving. No, it’s not for everyone, but the best art rarely is. Unfortunately, the nature of the film means that even those interested will probably still have to suffer through parts that may not appeal to them. The end result, however, is still magic. Dark, crude, wildly imaginative magic. Mandy is a special one indeed, so join the rest of the cool kids and see what they’re all talking about. Just leave the drugs at home — this movie is trippy enough without them.

My Rating: 7.5/10


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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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