A guest review by Spencer Hackett
I wasn’t planning on reviewing Mandy, feeling that there had been enough hype and positive reviews around it already. However I’ve woke up the day after viewing and my mind is still blown. I know that sounds like cliched review speak, but it has, I had one of the strangest nights sleep I can remember since the Twin Peaks Finale last year. Panos Cosmatos’ second feature has destroyed my psyche in all the best ways, so this review may be both incomprehensible and is probably going to be as much therapy for me as a proper review. I’ll be as light on spoilers as I can, but I’m treating the set up as fair game, so if you want to go in completely spoiler free, just know the film is a triumphant nightmare.
Narratively the film boils down to a straight revenge story. Nic Cages’ Red Miller seeks revenge on Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), the Manson-esque cult leader that slaughters is partner, the titular Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). That’s basically the set up and it may sound simple, but that’s what makes it work so well. Whilst all the little elements that make the film unique are piled on top of that simple, bare bones narrative. Whilst some films having a simple narrative may be a weakness, especially if the visual style is so overpowering as it is here, Mandy uses its simple story to add an emotional punch. Red’s descent into vengeful insanity is all the more powerful because there is no filler to detract from it. His relationship to Mandy is central, with more of the early film focusing on her rather than Red. This means that when she dies the our view of the film turns just as upside down as Reds.
Then its up to the visuals and performance to tell the story. The second half of the film is relatively dialogue free. Much has been made of Cage’s “full cage” performance, and in many ways he treads a line between over the top and terrifying. At no point did I feel pulled from the experience like some cage performances can, his insane actions are justified here, unlike most recent works. Red feels like a role tailor made for him, even though he was originally to take the role of Sand, the cult leader. Roache does a fine job of making Sand both unsettling and irritating, and Riseborough is brings a great humanity to Mandy, anchoring the emotional centre of the film. Visually I don’t remember a film as striking as this in a long time. Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb uses vivid reds, greens and blues to create a striking hellscape that seeps into every element of the film. It never feels realistic, or even wholly consistent, far from it, but that the great thing, it just works. In much the same way as the film as a whole, desperate elements congeal into a perfect mass. Also hats off to the animation team, I just love the use of these sections, they shouldn’t work, and they do.
It would also be amiss to not mention the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s final score. It is a perfect meld of heavy drones (courtesy of Sunn 0)))’s Stephen O’Malley) pulsating synths and some actually soft and mystical guitar notes too. Think if John Carpenter had reworked Jóhannsson’s Sicario soundtrack after getting back from a black sabbath gig, and you’ll get some idea of what I’m talking about. Watch this film as loud as you can, your experience will be all the better for it. The sound tracks build is perfectly pitched, flowing effortlessly with Reds maddening descent. This is no better displayed than playing the soundtrack album on vinyl. Side A is eerie and yet oddly calm in places, whilst Side B is the heavy, sludgy, crushing noise. Essential Listening and a perfect accompaniment to this nightmare.
I know I’ve repeated the word Nightmare constantly throughout this review, but it’s just the perfect word. Cosmatos has crafted the best interpretation of a nightmare I have ever seen. Lots of films claim to be nightmarish, this really is. I don’t see any reason to not see this film. I guess if you are of a nervous disposition this might not be amazing for you, but that’s it really. If you love genre pictures you will not be disappointed here. Please do what you can to see this, and try and see this as big and loud as you can. Also can we have a Cheddar Goblin spin off please, thanks.