Mandy January 4, 2019
2 Hrs. 4 Mins.
icolas Cage’s performance in Mandy, the second directorial effort from the Greek-Canadian filmmaker Panos Cosmatos, is feral. Over the course of the movie, Cage will bare his teeth, stalk and kill enemies, let out a primal scream or two, and get covered in blood. Certainly, these things might not sound out of the ordinary when talking about Cage. His acting style is analogous, in my mind, to a
Golden Retriever tearing apart a pig’s ear most of the time. But in the case of Mandy, unusual conviction backs the delirium. In a change of pace from the directors who exploit Cage’s long-standing intensity — which sometimes can lead to a phoned-in performance — Cosmatos appreciates and nourishes it.
Mandy is set in a sylvan region of the Pacific Northwest, in 1983. It is concerned with a couple, Red and Mandy (Cage and Andrea Riseborough), who live in a gnarled-looking lakeside cabin just at the end of a gravel road. Red, an age-old strong, silent type with a thick, full beard, makes his living as a logger. The witchy Mandy, who hungrily reads science-fiction literature and creates high-concept, genre-tinged art, spends her days at an understocked grocery store down the way. It is suggested, though never outrightly clarified, that both have survived unthinkable hardship.
Cosmatos is a believer in the power of spare, purposeful dialogue: the lovers converse little. But when they do, the words offered are revealing, and steeped in trust, tenderness. Cosmatos and his actors ask us to believe in Red and Mandy’s love, just through brief exchanges and protracted shots of the pair locked in a tight embrace. Miraculously, we do.
Utopia cannot last in Mandy. While walking to work one morning, Mandy is spotted by a man named Jeremiah (Linus Roache), who is driving through the area in a lowbrow van. We learn that Jeremiah is the leader of a cult called the Children of the Dawn — a collective reminiscent of the Manson family. Upon seeing Mandy, Jeremiah is infatuated. He demands that one of his flunkies track her down and bring her to him (i.e. kidnap her); he would like to seduce her (i.e. rape her). In the process of the group’s abduction scheme, which will unfortunately prove effective, Red is tied up and tortured; following is a revenge narrative that cannot be settled until Red has killed every one of the Children of the Dawn’s constituents and adjacents.
Perhaps Mandy, with its simplistic, customary revenge story, and its being set in the early 1980s, sounds like a tribute to the classic genre movie. Sometimes it feels like one: by homing in on sci-fi literature and imagery, and emphasizing the brooding score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, Cosmatos provides the film with lovable anachronism. The last half of the feature, which entirely consists of Cage picking off the people who have wronged him and Mandy, mimic the callousness of something you’d find in a Sam Peckinpah movie. I was reminded of Lucio Fulci, a filmmaker who was, in his heyday, unopposed to having scenes revolve around a woman literally puking up her inners, or a tarantula devouring a man’s face, for example, when presented with gore.
But pastiche is limited. Mandy is by and large a torrential exercise in original style. It's more visceral than logical, prioritizing honey-slow camera sweeps and mesmeric shots defined by their neoned purples and pinks over character development. We have faith in Cosmatos’ vision, even when it admittedly unravels as the film moves along. Without his certitude, certainly would the movie’s first half be overridden with pretension and tedium. But here, the emphasis on style and atmosphere is evocative and suggestive; the visual storytelling, so strong, fills in the blanks. Plus, the feature bears arguably the most inextricable element of a successful horror movie: generating characters compelling enough to make us conclude that we wouldn’t mind watching them in a more toned-down dramatic work.
The inaugural portion of Mandy is stronger than its second. Once the revenge story begins, the film descends into monotony, relying on sensational amounts of bloodshed that grows progressively less interesting to push the plot forward. Though the languorous pacing benefits the movie’s first hour or so — it both complements dread and an idea that the sleepiness of Red and Mandy’s shared existence is idyllic in its lacking of urgency— it elongates the secondary plot unnecessarily. But imperfection can be tolerated in a horror movie so unabashed and frequently mesmerizing. B+