Director: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache
Some performances seem to exist only to gauge the levels of anguish and rage a certain actor can achieve. This film surpasses Joe and rises through the ranks of what amounts of hate Nicolas Cage can unleash, thereafter the full brutalization of what appeared to already be a rather tough character. But that’s hardly the true allure of Mandy, with its grindhouse levels of gore and its haunting doses of crimson cinematography. Having seen a multitude of films in theaters in my lifetime, in this one I noticed a certain grain in the very first shot—that of a VHS tape. Director Panos Cosmatos is aiming to both revitalize B-movie styles, and, as we will soon realize emulate certain arthouse film traditions.
Cage portrays Red and Andrea Riseborough is the titular Mandy. They lead simple lives in a quaint existence. Maybe they’re both running from something, as some scenes seem to suggest. But they’re not bothering anybody, so it’s okay. The forthcoming tragedies are not products of them, just the results of the depravity of others.
A bizarre cult gets a good luck at Mandy, and its leader begins to lust after her. So he sends a group of demonic and otherworldly bikers to kidnap her, and then he tries to seduce her. This ultimately fails, so he calls her a whore and orchestrates her demise in front of Red. Naturally, this sends Red on a revenge trip against the cult.
Naturally, to avoid spoilers, that’s all the premise this review is going to allow. However, one should also acknowledge that it takes about an hour to get to this point. In other movies, this would not be a complaint. Like many, I enjoy a slow burn. And the stylistic long takes, melodramatic monologues and the cinematography reminiscent of It Follows all just add to the experience. But somewhere in the irrelevant rambling of the villainous Jeremiah Sand and the long takes of a character’s stone-cold face, one’s senses are admittedly dulled, and one becomes a bit bored. This boredom doesn’t last long, but it is there. This film is 121 minutes, but could have easily been somewhere between 90 and 100.
While I understand Panos Cosmatos’ intentions in these moments, I think one can surmise that the story was all too thin to justify such length. I can easily see some even writing off Mandy as a style-over-substance lightshow with little redeeming qualities. Long takes are, generally speaking, more justified when they’re giving the audience something to chew on, be it the innards of a character’s psyche in a Bergman film or an interesting turn of events in the film’s plot. Or to occasionally showcase breathtaking visuals, which Mandy by all means overdoes. Its slowness is not its fault so much as its script. We don’t see people when we look at Red, Mandy, or the cult leader, just actors. Sure, we get little nuances of alcoholism, abuse, and past failures, but they spend the first hour playing the victim and attacker of a violent crime. Mandy gives too little to expect an audience to care.
What this film excels at, however, is in the cosmetic department. The levels of gore are enough to please any casual fan of horror films, even if they lost interest a half hour ago, and the film is told in a series of retro stylistic chapters written across the screen, the final being the film’s title. Mandy takes a great amount of glee in its bloodlust, showering a screaming open-mouthed Nicolas Cage in red fluid. There is little to dislike in the amount of obscure world-building and carefree violence that Mandy engages in, whether or not its length is justified is up to the viewer.
As much as I genuinely enjoyed Mandy, although it certainly isn’t for everyone. Fans of more dramatic features may be turned off by the films grotesque nature, and those who loved Hobo with a Shotgun may get bored, but the small in-between percentage may see one of the years best and most rewarding films. Should this apply to you, buy a ticket as soon as possible.