Mandy - 2018
Director(s): Panos Cosmatos
Writer(s): Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Cinematography by: Benjamin Loeb
Editor(s): Brett W. Bachman
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré and Richard Brake
My love for Nicolas Cage is very well documented. I’m not blind to the fact that his resume as of late is a bit of a barrage of roles he didn’t think twice about before saying yes, but his commitment to his roles and his willingness to work with experimental directors has always been what sets him apart from the rest of Hollywood, for better or worse. In comes Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow), who somehow inserts Cage into an LSD-infused nightmare he had while listening to heavy metal and watching a marathon of Jodorowsky/Lynch movies, as a painting of Bruce Pennington hung in the background. If my rambling isn’t clear, this movie is a lot of things at the same time, and somehow, they add up to a movie your eyes just want to devour, while your brain is trying to reconcile all the things it likes versus the things it hates. Let’s talk about it.
The story is simple, as it’s rooted inside of a revenge thriller. A couple that lives in the woods crosses paths with a religious cult. The leader of the cult gets infatuated with the woman, Mandy (Riseborough) and hires a group of bikers to kidnap her as he wants her to be part of the cult. When she rebuts his advancements, he decides she is unclean and must be cleansed via fire, leaving her boyfriend, Red (Cage), on a revenge-driven warpath, killing anyone and anything associated with the cult leader. While on paper it reads as just another revenge movie, the execution is what sets it apart.
The amount of creativity injected into every single frame of this movie is awe-inspiring. Cosmatos and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb focused on creating an environment that felt otherworldly despite it being set on Earth. The use of color saturation, of lighting and of camera angles all felt methodically planned rather than being experimental for the sake of being experimental. The sheer number of just beautiful and slow shots in this movie, especially in the beginning, was not something I was expecting. I love how the colors surrounding the character painted a picture, how Mandy’s blue-ish purple is mixed with Red’s… red, to create this vibrant almost neon pink symbolizing their love and how Red loses that color when they take Mandy away from him. The end shot of Red staring into the camera as his grief, anger and depression fully consumed in red-glow, stays with you long after you finish watching the movie.
Quick note: I had to watch it for a second time. I didn’t expect this to be a slow-methodical movie, with countless shots of people intently staring at each other, and I hit play late at night after going out drinking with my wife. First viewing was rough, but second viewing (sober and early in the day) was far more enjoyable.
When the movie shifts gears into the revenge aspect, it feels a bit jarring and not so cohesive. The first half is slow and methodical, like I said above, with an ethereal dream-like quality to the visuals and the score. The second has a heavy metal score to go along with the gut-wrenching visuals since the camera doesn’t shy away from the gore and violence of Red’s revenge. I still love the creativity they infused in the second half, with Red forging his own crazy axe/scythe, the bikers that felt ripped from Hellraiser, the acid trip he goes on and the final showdown at the church all make them stand out from your run-of-the-mill revenge movie. But it still becomes straightforward and single-minded as it just goes from one death to the next, creating a big divide from the first half making it feel like two movies in one.
There is a lot to love in this movie. Cage is fully buying into this madman that lights a cigarette on a burning severed head; the visuals are breathtaking; the score is emotional and heart pounding and the practical effects are B-movie glorious. Yet, I don’t love this movie. I had fun, but something felt off. Not that I wouldn’t recommend it to my fellow cinephiles, (sorry it hurts to type that pretentious sounding word but that’s the people that will enjoy this movie). They will see the craftsmanship it took to pin-down this LSD trip into a camera and edit it in a way that makes a movie. The slow lingering shots, the animated dream sequences, the non-verbal communications, the gratuitous violence, the over-the-top performances will turn off a lot of people and at times it turned me off a bit and it that makes it hard to fully recommend. But if anything I wrote here intrigues you, I say go for it as it is one hell of a ride that doesn’t feel like anything you have ever seen, yet it feels like everything you have seen before. Cosmatos is why I love movies.
Mandy is currently available on VOD. Your call.
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