RED DEAD REVENGE: A REVIEW! OF MANDY (WITH TIDBITS ABOUT MOTHER! AND THE NEON DEMON THROWN IN FOR GO
This doesn't appear until two-thirds through the movie...for real.
Mandy is the second film from writer/director Panos Cosmatos, whose only other film, 2010’s Beyond the Black Rainbow was little-noticed until the release of Mandy.
I discovered Beyond the Black Rainbow several years ago when it was on Netflix, after deciding to take a chance on this movie with weird cover art (to be fair, the art looks like a Mummy movie or something). And, even though don’t usually dig movies THIS odd, something about it spoke to me. For the next few years, I told everyone who liked science-fiction films to check it out (but I doubt anyone did).
So, when I first saw the trailer for Mandy earlier this year, I was excited. It looked BONKERS. Nic Cage, red lighting, cultists, a weird 1983 aesthetic, Nic Cage, demon bikers, chainsaw fights, Bill Duke, Nic Cage, and a haunting score. And the result? I got EXACTLY the movie I expected and TOTALLY NOT the movie I wanted.
Spoilers, ahoy! (for both Mandy, and Moon…and Frailty)
Remember Moon? We find out early on Sam Rockwell is a clone slaving away in solitude on the moon, and it turns out he has a short life expectancy. Once the clone part is revealed, I thought we were going to get an existential sci-fi mind-trip that asked a bunch of big questions about what it means to be human and all that…and the movie didn’t do any of that. It just told a very simple, almost workman-like story where, “Yes, I’m a clone so how do I get back to Earth NOW?” is the narrative. No bigger questions, really. Simple. A lot of people LOVED that. I thought it was an interesting take, but even though I admit Moon is a quality film, it’s not what I wanted, really.
Same with Mandy.
Here’s the deal: Mandy is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It creates a mood and surreal-non-reality that feels organic, trippy, where everything makes sense in that created world…but I don’t think the narrative earns it…
I can't even begin to tell you the context of this shot...you really just have to experience it...
First, let’s look at what actually HAPPENS in Mandy: a guy leaves work and comes home to his wife. They watch TV and lay in bed. They go fishing for a minute. She goes for a walk where she’s seen by a van of weirdos. The weirdos get some other weirdos to kidnap her. They tie up the husband, drug her, ask her to have sex with one of the weirdos and she refuses so they burn her alive in front of her husband. He gets free, makes an axe, gets a crossbow, and kills them all.
That’s it. If you gave that to almost any other filmmaker, it would end up looking like every other home invasion movie we’ve seen in the last decade-and-a-half. However, you have a true visionary like Cosmatos making it, so, we got something unique. However, with how trippy the visuals are and how crazy the in-world logic is (hey, there’s a tiger…for no reason), I was expecting the movie’s narrative to go CRAZY…but it never does. Terrible things happen, but again, nothing out of the ordinary from other grindhouse revenge flicks.
Nic Cage at his most normal...
I was expecting the batty visuals to be met with crazy plot twists — like, what if the leader of the cult, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) was right and he is a vessel for something spiritual? What if the demon bikers are aliens or something from another dimension? Nope. It’s just really bad (good?) drugs. It’s so…boring…for such an amazing-looking and feeling movie.
SOOOOO much atmosphere...
It’s kind of like that movie Frailty.
Remember that? Directed by and Starring the late Bill Paxton? The entire movie is played like the dad is crazy and at the end, it turns out he was 100% RIGHT ABOUT THE DEMONS, which made you re-examine the entire film. I wanted THAT from Mandy. I wanted something that would challenge me and test how much narrative weirdness I could handle. I wanted something like We Are The Flesh (although…probably WITHOUT the incest…yeah). I wanted to feel like the visuals were SERVING the narrative — like they do in Beyond the Black Rainbow (which is a super trippy narrative with relatively tame visuals, compared to Mandy).
As it is, it feels like the visuals and narrative exist as two separate entities.
…so…did I LIKE Mandy?
Yes. A lot. In fact, it’s been a week and I can’t stop thinking about it. That’s a GOOD thing. I’ve been thinking about the performances, which are FANTASTIC. I hate people saying this is Nic Cage in freakout mode, because it undersells what he’s doing here. This isn’t Vampire’s Kiss where he’s just being WEIRD…in this film, he witnesses his wife being burned alive in a bag and goes off the deep end. Because that WOULD mess a person up. This might be one of his most nuanced performances, to be honest. The part that stands out to me isn’t the bathroom scene (which IS great), it’s this tiny moment where he stares at his wife’s artwork, absolutely enamored with her and her work. I HOPE this is comeback. We need more of him.
But, yeah — the inter-titles, the music, the lighting — I can’t stop thinking about them…which means I’m thinking about the formal aspects and NOT the thematics.
Again, I just wanted more.
But please don’t think I’m putting this movie down — I’m not. In fact, this movie is a hell of a feat they pulled off. Showings of Mandy are selling-out across the country. People are talking about it online — I honestly can’t recall the last time such an arthouse movie had such mainstream appeal…which brings me to Mother! and The Neon Demon.
I hated Mother! so very, very much...
Mandy is what those two films WANTED to be. Mother! also created a non-reality that doesn’t take place anywhere we know, where everything is visual metaphor…but it did it SO POORLY. Mother! was ugly, heavy-handed, and whiny. It ATTEMPTED to have a trippy narrative (didn’t really work…it was simply nonsensical and confused) but lacked the visual style to match it and was one of the most laughable films I’ve ever seen.
Such a disappointment...
However, The Neon Demon had the weird, colorful, artsy imagery, but until a mountain lion shows up and Elle Fanning is LITERALLY eaten then excreted by Jena Malone (to be fair, two other people HELPED eat Elle Fanning), it never had the narrative weirdness to match. It was bland, a bit boring, and the weird stuff came out of nowhere.
I'm sure my uncle had this same thing painted on the side of his van back in '83
Mandy is the both the best and worst parts of those movies…but it pulls off what they failed to. It made me care…it made me think…and it made me want to watch it again.
...also...Cheddar Goblin is awesome.