Mad Howling in the Red Dark

If you are ready for an agonisingly slow descent into hell, then Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is the film for you. There are many reasons to instinctively refrain from watching it in the first place: yet another Nicholas Cage over-the-top performance; outrageous violence and buckets of blood; killer demons on motorcycles. What’s more, the film might change from one viewing to the next, but for me, it worked because I was in the right kind of mood, and that might prove crucial with movies like this. And I never watched a chainsaw duel I didn’t like.

Mandy is the kind of movie that some reviews describe by using comparisons: some say it’s an 80s heavy metal album cover come to life, others mention Kubrick’s 2001. It’s true that the movie’s atmosphere is hard to pin down. To me, several components point to David Lynch: Cage was already going berserk in Lynch’s Wild At Heart; there is a maniacal, long-haired henchman that reminded me of Bob from Twin Peaks; and the score is from the late and great Johann Johansson, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was Angelo Badalamenti’s work.

The movie’s pacing seems to be a kind of watershed. Many viewers find it too slow; me, I found it hypnotic, with the whole screen pulsating in red, with characters backlit, with Andrea Riseborough’s face superimposed on Linus Roache’s. It’s scary as anything, not least because it remains unexplained. And Mandy is not big on explaining. It just wants to twist your guts.

Linus Roache does a fantastic job in playing the villain. Like Manson, Jeremiah is also a failed musician, and Mandy makes the mistake of laughing at him. He has a church built as a monument to his madness, but as soon as he finds that Red has the upper hand, he immediately crumbles and offers sexual favours. What a wimp. It’s to the movie’s credit that a weak villain doesn’t sabotage its own suspense. With most villains, you can draw a decision tree: if you don’t do as I say, then your wife/family/friends will die. Jeremiah wants what he wants, then kills. There is no decision to make, no way out.

To explain the plot is somewhere between unsatisfying and insane, but here goes: it’s a revenge story. Want more? Ok: Red, the Cage character, works as a lumberjack and lives with his girlfriend Mandy (Riseborough) in a home in the woods. She is very good at drawing. One day, a Charlie Manson type cult leader named Jeremiah spots her and wants her. She is murdered horribly. The second half of the movie is Cage going full Cage, building a weapon that would look right at home in The Lord of the Rings, and having his revenge. Which describes precious little of a movie that relies heavily on atmosphere.

It’s also a movie where you should leave logic at the door. Where do the motorcycle demons come from? Are they even real? Everyone in this movie seems to be drug-addled at some point, so those demons might just be regular people or ghosts. Here is a test for you: Mandy features a television ad with a monster called the Cheddar Goblin who wants to sell mac and cheese to children. It is one hell of a scary ad, and it’s in tune with the rest of the film. And Cage going howlingly berserk is more justified here than in any other of his films. Tempted?

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