Director: Panos Cosmatos
Screenplay: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn & Chris ‘Casper’ Kelly ( who wrote the Cheddar Goblin ad)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, Bill Duke
Country: USA, Belgium, UK
Running Time: 121 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Riding on a wave of hype comes Panos Cosmatos’ utterly bonkers Mandy. It picked up a trio of top awards at Sitges, including Best Picture and Best Director, and my movie-blogger social media feeds have been a never ending stream of ‘have you seen Mandy?’ or ‘oh my God, I just saw Mandy!’ for the past month. Of course, I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I requested a copy and received one (God I love movie blogging). Could it possibly live up to the hype?
Mandy, as crazy as everyone is making it out to be (and they wouldn’t be wrong), actually has quite a simple story (* spoilers ahead, although nothing past the halfway mark of the film). Red (Nicolas Cage) and his partner Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live out in the woods in their secluded log cabin. Red spends his days working as a lumberjack and Mandy is an artist. They’re very much in love and enjoy the serenity of their existence. That is until Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), the leader of a religious cult, happens past Mandy. He is strangely drawn to her and wants her for himself, so asks his ‘brothers’ to summon a group of demon bikers to bring Mandy to him. They do, but when she shuns his advances he drags her back to her cabin and burns her alive in front of Red. He is utterly devastated (of course) and is propelled into a violent rage through which he enacts a bloody revenge on all who wronged him.
So it’s your straightforward revenge thriller at heart, but the style, tone and some of the characters/incidents thrown into the mix are anything but straightforward. The atmosphere of the film, particularly in the first half, is drawn out and incredibly trippy. Deep, bold colours are used in the lighting and unusual, often in-camera, effects are incorporated to create a hypnotic dream-like quality. It’s an absolute feast for the eyes, with cinematography from Benjamin Loeb that gives Roger Deakins’ work in Blade Runner 2049 a run for its money. There are some nicely done animated scenes too.
Although quite a unique experience, Mandy is definitely heavily influenced by the past. There have been a glut of nostalgic genre films and TV over last decade or so. Most of these thrive on referencing retro movies or using old-school cameras/stock/grading-effects to mimic them. Mandy is steeped in nostalgia for the 80s too (when the film is set) but instead seems to bring to life the films we wanted or were promised but never got. As Cosmatos confirms in the ‘making of’ included here, he was inspired by the lurid cover art of movies, metal albums and paperback fantasy novels of the time. He mentions how he wasn’t allowed to watch many of the films with the most enticing covers as he was too young, so would imagine what they were like and Mandy attempts to visualise these imaginations. He achieves this magnificently and, being shot and presented like a dream too, it feels like we’re actively viewing the film through the imagination of a youngster from the time.
The film is very much separated into 2 sections. The first half is very slow burning as we are introduced to Red and Mandy, as well as the ‘brotherhood’. The core romance is surprisingly well handled. The love between the central couple feels totally believable on screen, not in a cheesily sweet Hollywood sense, but in the comfort and openness you can only enjoy in a real and strong relationship. The strength of this bond is vital in cueing up the second half, which purely consists of Red’s quest for revenge. Without that love being properly established, the carnage that follows would just come across as mindless and silly.
Also helping pull it off are the actors. Cage is on top form here, which is great to see considering the amount of dross he’s starred in over the past 10 years (give or a take a couple of other gems). He goes ‘full-Cage’ towards the end, delivering the sort of unhinged, manic performance he’s well known for, but in the first half, he scales things right down to convince as a peace-loving partner to Mandy. Speaking of which, Andrea Riseborough is perfect as the enigmatic and strangely enticing titular character. Linus Roache makes a fine villain too, just the right side of over the top, delivering some powerful monologues through the course of the film. It’s hard to believe his dad William plays Ken Barlow on the British soap Coronation Street and he made a brief appearance on the show too when he was 11!
The blood-splattered final act lacks the heart and soul of the first half perhaps, but it’s so whacky and stylish it’s an absolute blast to watch. I’m not quite sure what was going on with that Cheddar Goblin sequence (perhaps it’s just a comment on the crazy adverts of the era) but the more madness the merrier in my book.
You can easily call the film shallow and you wouldn’t be wrong. Cosmatos openly admits making the film was a form of wish-fulfilment. The chaos of the second half is brutal and bloody, so won’t appeal to everyone and neither will the slow burn of the first half. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it as an ultra-stylish and trippily surreal spin on the revenge movie. At its heart, it’s simple and straightforward, but it’s injected with hallucinogenic nostalgia for 80s fantasy and heavy metal imagery. Those with the taste and stomach for it will be in heaven, albeit a dark, twisted and blood-drenched heaven.
Mandy is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital Download and limited-edition VHS-Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Universal. The limited-edition VHS package is exclusive to HMV and includes a DVD, Blu-Ray, Film Poster, Sticker and Bubblegum Card. I watched the Blu-Ray version and it looks and sounds fantastic.
You get a couple of special features too:
– Deleted scenes
– Making of featurette
The deleted scenes are worth a watch. One sequence has the audience catch a glimmer of Red’s potential for violent rage as he struggles to contain himself whilst a local bad-mouths him and Mandy. The ‘making of’ is only 20-odd minutes long, but it’s pretty decent, offering some illuminating comments on Cosmatos’ inspirations for the film and his approach to making it. There’s also some fun behind the scenes footage to watch and a few outtakes. It’s a shame there’s no audio commentary though as I’d have loved to have heard some more in-depth discussion on how particular scenes were put together.