“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones on my head and rock and roll me when I’m dead.”
Watching Mandy is like something from a nightmarish, psychedelic dream. From the mindset of Panos Cosmatos, Mandy hijacks your mind to board a surreal train journey into the unknown. It might be a stretch to say that its approach was almost ‘Lynchian’, as an ode to the auteur. It is a stretch, but it comes close.
I went into this film blind not knowing what to expect, intentionally staying away from trailers or any synoptic information that was in the bubbling noise of critic approval. They weren’t kidding with their reactions because Mandy achieves something incredibly insane that will be talked about for years to come.
If you want a bitesize interpretation, then it’s like watching Suspiria sipping on LSD like fine wine whilst having an affair with Mad Max to a Black Sabbath album. Unleashed from the proverbial depths of hell, Mandy would be the demon offspring. However mad that might sound, not only was it surprisingly enjoyable but as a Nicolas Cage film, it’s easily the best thing he has done in years.
Mandy blows away the opposition with its unconventional approach. Painting a comparable outlook to how the BBFC treated films like The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre back in the 70s and 80s, Mandy‘s unimaginable presence screams ‘illegal’ as if it was banned in several countries. The only way you would have known about the film was through ‘Chinese Whispers’, spread by staff who worked at Blockbusters or by any persistent fan which only magnifies the film’s power and notoriety. Unearthed from its cult status bunker like a buried E.T. game, Mandy is an unfiltered and mystifying experience.
The ‘batshit craziness’ that comes with Cosmatos’ film is how he effectively turns Mandy into a mood piece that is every bit pretentious but owns up to its ‘style over substance’ principles. The Suspiria connection is not a comparison made lightly, but its use of colour tells its own hypnotic and reflective story due to Benjamin Loeb’s dramatic and intimidating cinematography. Split into three, stylistically different chapters and broadening landscapes, its visual use of mixed-media in its story traverses into the abyss like an extended music video for a rock band. The first act is your traditional love story full of reds and heartbeat blues. The second act takes a dark, twisted and hallucinogenic turn down to Satan’s alley thanks to the Charles Manson inspired behaviour from its antagonist Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). It’s final act entitled ‘Mandy’ goes full tilt towards a ‘Grindhouse’ dimension of enraged hell, losing grip on reality by succumbing to its stylised devotion of 80s bravado and violence.
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s enigmatic score has the same, defying impact that Sicario or even Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk or Blade Runner 2049 had in abundance. Comparable to Zimmer, Jóhannsson had the uncanny ability to create music and epic sound designs that allows the audience to engage outside their comfort zones. Scenes take on a ‘larger than life’ quality where the imagination is fuelled by the frenzy, knowing that once the experience is over, you’re left with a distinct impression. Mandy probably wouldn’t have felt engaging or intimidating without its dominating score, and yet within its precise, tension-filled moments, it made every note count. Just like its haunting visuals, Jóhannsson’s score encompasses various musical styles to evaluate its mood, mastering the magic of 80s synth to inflicting a deadly hardcore rock vibe. Enough to make any soundtrack enthusiast proud, the profound sadness that Mandy inhabits is the sad acknowledgement that Jóhannsson is no longer with us to continually push the cinematic barrier with his music.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the plot, there’s nothing original about it. Straight out of the ‘John Wick book’ of simplistic storytelling, it’s something that won’t challenge you. But unlike John Wick where it is allowed to enjoy its prolonged madness, you hope that Mandy would have something else up its sleeve, but it never quite materialises. So comfortable in its ethereal and otherworldly existence, every action scene is a quick return to that mood.
But I guess that was the point. Like its homages to the decade, not only does it borrow its crazy, over the top moments but also its flaws. At least it’s brave enough to accept it.
Part of that reason unquestionably belongs to Nicolas Cage, doing the most ‘Nic Cage’ thing since Nic Cage screamed into the cinematic void with “no, not the bees” from The Wicker Man remake. Living up to his own cult status, Nicolas Cage has become an internet meme worthy of parody because of his unintentional humour or ‘Cage-isms’ as I like to call them. No other actor does eye-popping, insane laughter or over the top quips like he does! Yet somehow in this dystopian, chaotic hell of religious cults, he has found his perfect match. Mandy accommodates his eccentricities and enables Cage to absolutely embrace the insanity. Once you’ve put that into perspective, Mandy is essentially Nic Cage: The Movie.
Think about it – Nicolas Cage’s career is very much in the cinematic wilderness thanks to his straight to DVD films, pretty much like how his character Red Miller is first introduced. We know nothing about his character besides chopping down trees as a lumberjack and loving the woman of his life Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Even the appearance of his normality and simplicity is unsettling because of how much he fights for that persona. So when Mandy is kidnapped by a religious cult and their demonic henchmen, almost without a trigger warning, the ‘Cage-isms’ start to appear.
There’s a brilliant scene where he wrestles with the trauma of what happens to Mandy – sitting on a toilet seat, working himself into a furious anger whilst drinking a bottle of vodka. It doesn’t escape the laughter, because it’s the realisation that Cage shouldn’t even pretend anymore. Why fight it? Why resist? Just succumb to the reputation that makes us love you. He doesn’t have many lines, and yet Mandy utterly plays into Cage’s manic strength, and provides him with the weaponised tools to go on a violent rampage of revenge.
Just like Commando or even Predator, Mandy verges on the cusp of ‘guilty pleasure’ in keeping its narrative compelling where possible. Certainly with any film that challenges the rational norm (whether you agree with it or not), formulates an engaging conversation afterwards as something you won’t easily disregard.
No matter what side of the cinematic spectrum you sit on, Mandy needs to be seen to be believed.
MANDY is screening as part of the BFI’s London Film Festival 2018. For screening details and ticket availability, please visit their website for more details.