Director: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, Richard Brake, Bill Duke
Run Time: 121 mins
Mandy has finally released to UK audiences, in what has seemed like an incredibly long wait, after it impressed at various film festivals. It is the second film by director Panos Cosmatos after directing the rather polarising Beyond The Black Rainbow. Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller, a logger who is a recovering alcoholic. He lives with his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) who works as a cashier at a local store in the day but draws fantasy art in her spare time. Although the conversations that they share at the beginning of the film come across as rather awkward, they are clearly a perfect match for each other, Mandy portrayed as a Mother Nature figure that Red has a positive influence from, who keeps order.
This order is demolished and then some when a hippie cult called the ‘Children of the New Dawn’ arrive on the scene, led by a Charles Manson-esque figure called Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Sand becomes enamoured with Mandy and orders her kidnapping and subsequent murder. This then sends Red off the rails and revenge ensues.
Mandy is an interesting film and one that I think would benefit from several viewings to fully unpack some of the themes it explores. It is a psychedlic, hallucinatory experience that feels like an arthouse John Wick infused with Mad Max: Fury Road. Whilst it takes a while for the action sequences to start, which are worth the price of admission alone, there is a lot to like in the first half, even if it is a little ponderous in places.
Although the narrative may seem rather simple on the surface, Cosmatos has made a thematically rich film that interrogates questions of religion, drug use and the environment. Whilst I’m still trying to piece the entire film together, clearly some of the characters featured are meant to represent something that I’m still not entirely sure of what it is. Those who dismiss the narrative and simply watch the film for the action sequences aren’t getting the full experience.
Mandy is one of the most visually arresting films I have seen in quite some time. One could pause the film at any point as each of DP Benjamin Loeb’s frames is masterful in its construction. It’s not exactly certain where this film takes place, whether it’s on our Earth, another planet or if it’s just a psychedelic drug experience. This is because some films are shot normally, whereas some are drenched in feverish pink hues. The action sequences are superb, in particular the now famous chainsaw fight, although some of the kills are a little too ‘easy’ to achieve but I think this is something that Cosmatos is trying to portray intentionally.
Nicolas Cage goes full-on berserker-mode as Red and whilst his performances vary, Mandy definitely represents one of his best roles. Red goes through all the motions once Mandy is killed and reaps chaos on the cult. Andrea Riseborough is good, if a little one-note as the titular Mandy and she is a very important character in the film’s proceedings and is given a lot of the film’s meat to chew on. One of my chief reservations with the film though, is that I didn’t quite buy their relationship as Cage has a long absence in the first half of the film. Although his character is well-developed in the rage-filled second half, he’s a little ambiguous in the first half. The rest of the cast are all good, in particular Linus Roache as the cult leader, a character who feels he is enacting God’s will and who proves a nasty adversary for Cage’s Red.
Mandy is unfortunately, the last score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who goes out on a very high note with this. Jóhannsson’s score is near-perfect, fitting with the film perfectly and is very memorable. He experiments with heavy metal and electronic elements and the result is a pulsating score that heightens in tension as the film does too. The use of King Crimson’s ‘Starless’ in the opening credits is also a brilliant use of the song too.
Overall, there is certainly a lot to like with Mandy, even if it’s not exactly the film I expected it to be. It is a hallucinogenic, phantasmagorical experience and is one of the most original films I have seen in a while. I liked that Cosmatos has created a film that has multiple meanings under the surface to satisfy those who want a strong narrative, as well as delivering (and then some…) on the action sequences. When Nicolas Cage has the right material, he shines and with the outstanding visual aesthetic and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, this is, on the whole, a great experience. I’m hoping this is a film that improves on further viewings and my current 3-star rating may well be bumped up. My main reservations with the film are the integrity of the central relationship and the overlong first half, but I’m hoping that there’s more to it on a next viewing. Regardless, for all the film gets right, Mandy is a film that needs to go straight on the top of your watchlist, but it is certainly going to be polarising.