Director: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy and Richard Brake
There are not a lot of recent films starring Nicolas Cage that have received critical acclaim. Most of his recent outings have been strange, independent films that have received at best a mixed response. Always looking for something different Cage has starred in a wide range of films. Mandy, released in 2018, is something different and has also won Cage a lot of acclaim and recognition.
Mandy is a slow-burn horror film, about Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough, The Death of Stalin, Birdman and Oblivion) and her partner Red Miller (Cage, Leaving Las Vegas, National Treasure and Vampire’s Kiss). After being spotted by a cult leader, Mandy is kidnapped and burned alive in front of a bound Red. This in turn leads to a revenge story, where Red fuelled by the anger of his dead girlfriend hunts down the cult and kills them. It’s not an original story in any sense and has been told in many variations. What makes Mandy unique is the way it’s presented.
Panos Cosmatos has created a visually stunning version of this time old revenge tale. It’s a dream-like, drug induced trip of a film and the cinematography by Benjamin Loeb deserves a lot of praise. This film is a masterpiece to look at. The colours are bright and vivid, there is beautiful animation spliced in throughout. Most frames can be singled out as a work of art.
The problem with Mandy is that below this incredibly stylish front is a very cliched story that is stretched out at least half an hour too long. Running at almost exactly 2 hours, Mandy feels a lot longer. It takes an hour to really get going and even when it does, you’ve seen it before and it’s not exciting. It looks nice while it’s on, but there isn’t anything beyond that. It’s slow and the film really suffers for it. It’s completely style over substance and unfortunately the style, while greatly presented, isn’t enough to carry the film and make this a must see.
On top of the amazing visuals is a great score, beating away in the background. It feels very unsettling and adds to the visuals to create an unhinged film. At times this works well, and while it never reaches high it is creepy and weird enough to at least have moments of tense scares. The effects are also great, adding to the great visuals. The scene where Mandy is burned alive, inside a flailing bag, is horrific and you can see the pain on Cage’s face. He is giving one hell of a performance here. There is no phoning it in, he is on full force. It may not be the craziest Cage performance ever, but it’s entertaining and at least does something to keep the run time interesting.
You can’t help but appreciate Mandy for being an ambitious film, it’s really stylised with a dark retro-neon look. The music and performances are all great. The gore effects look brilliant. It’s just that the thin plot and the way too long run time makes this hard to properly engage with. Even with Cage’s great performance you’ll leave this film feeling cold and disinterested in the characters. There is a chainsaw duel, which is probably better than the one in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but there’s not enough fun in the action to keep it exciting. It’s not strange enough to really make you think twice about what you’re seeing, like a David Lynch film would.
It boils down to a story you’ve probably seen quite a few times before, told in a very unique and stylised way. It’s artsy and ambitious, but ultimately hollow and boring. If it was cut by half an hour and believe me there is at least half an hour that can be cut, then this would be a lot better.