The buzz around Mandy (2018) was bound to bring me to this film, eventually. I’d had hoped that this would be a fun, laughable, gore-fest like Evil Dead 2, based on the lead actor is Nicolas Cage. However, Panos Cosmatos’s drug-induced fever dream felt like the love child of Nicolas Winding Refn and Sam Rami that probably should have never seen the light of day. Very little of the film worked for me, from the over-the-top performances (someone out-Cages Cage) to the overuse of color effects as it slogged to its bloody conclusion.
Mandy didn’t work for me almost at all
Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and Red (Nicolas Cage) live a quiet existence in their cabin in the woods during 1983…that is until Mandy attracts the attention of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his hippie cult, who instantly becomes obsessed with her. He sends his demon bikers to retrieve her (though the rest of the hippies go, too), and when she calls him out on being a phony messiah, he loses it. Red seeks vengeance on the lot of them, and goes full Cage for the last half of the film.
Therein lies the problem: the setup takes forever. It is at least an hour before the catalyst occurs for Red to seek his vengeance. Calling this a pacing problem is unfair, as it’s not a scene or two too long, but rather the entire first hour feels like we are building to something different. Yet, the main draw of the film is the second half, once Nicolas Cage is unleashed to go on his killing spree in the name of the women he loves. Not that those moments worked much for me, either.
Sure, there are a few moments where it’s hard not to laugh at the spectacle unfolding in front of me. However, it’s not enjoyable like Evil Dead 2, nor is it thought-provoking like Neon Demon or Only God Forgives. Instead, the use of lighting, flashing, and an ugly 80’s style filter only make for a garish display of mayhem, insanity, and over-the-top performances. I expected Cage to be big, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
The scene immediately after Mandy is killed is a long take of an oddly decorated bathroom where apparently liquor is stored. Cage stands in a bloody shirt and tighty-whiteys, drowning his sorrows in what I assume is vodka. He begins to Cage-out, screaming and growling as he chugs the clear liquid while the camera slowly tightens in on him. It’s about as Nicolas Cage a moment as you can get, but it was pure ridiculousness. However, the bigger performance comes from the villain.
As if not to be outdone by Cage, Roache gives a manic performance as the leader of the cult. He yells, screams, begs, and preaches in a performance that is hard not to just watch – it leads one to ponder how one is meant to interpret it. The first moments we spend with Jeremiah are of him pining to one follower about his desire for Mandy, then telling another to fetch her immediately – which apparently translates to days – and then laughing maniacally about sacrificing the fat member of the cult to the demon bikers we will be meeting momentarily. In that scene, we not only see a range of “emotions” from Jeremiah that are indicative of how crazy he is, but we also bear witness to how Roache refuses to be overshadowed.
Cosmatos definitely went big in terms of style for this film. The colors from scene to scene vary greatly, as do some of the more arthouse-inspired shots. There is an added element of animation throughout the second half of the film, which may be visions Red is having. Of course, there isn’t much sense to be made of the story, or even the rules of the demon bikers. Some die relatively easily, as though they aren’t demons at all – while others take a little more effort from Red. They appear to live on Earth, despite needing to be summoned by a horn of some kind earlier on. Regardless, Cosmatos is clearly more concerned with the style rather than the substance of the film.
Mandy is definitely not for everyone. I’ve seen some people putting this at the top of their 2018 movies, but for me, it’s definitely closer to the bottom. I’m all for style, and I can get into any genre…but not much of this was enjoyable. A few smiles plus a laugh here and there does not make for a good movie. Mandy earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.