Barnes on Film - Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)

Barnes on Film - Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)

Michael Barnes     
1120   0

Nicholas Cage is...good again?

      There is a moment near the end of Panos Cosmatos's Mandy where Nicholas Cage, crowning one of his career-best and most unhinged performances, looks more or less directly into the camera and therefore at the audience. He's wild-eyed, his face matted with blood, grime, vodka, cocaine, and who knows what else. He smiles but it ain't a happy one. You can't help but laugh - it's almost like he's asking "can you believe we just went through this shit?"

At that point in the film's almost two hour run time, you might very well be looking back at Nic on the screen and thinking the same thing. In the buildup to that moment, you will have witnessed a chainsaw fight, the forging of a battle axe, the heckling of a nude would-be messiah, animated interludes, an immolation, some kind of Satanic ocarina, pornography, Bill Duke, a giant wasp that dispenses hallucinogens, a King Crimson song, more red lens filters than you may have though previously imaginable and a critter called a Cheddar Goblin that I'm sure will be a Funko Pop in about fifteen minutes.

Mandy is the kind of film that invites hyperbole when it is discussed because it completely commits to an over the top, hyper-pulp concept. It's a fearless film, the kind we have far too few of these days. It doesn't just take risks- it doesn't care when they don't pan out and just barrels on through to the next do-or-die moment. It never goes off the rails though because there weren't any rails to begin with. But when you get past all of the extremely stylized photography (which is amazing) and the hypnotically oppressive Johan Johannson score that sits like a fat vulture over every frame of this picture, what you are watching is really just an old fashioned revenge story. Despite the violence, the psychedelia that pervades almost every image and sound in the film and the cryptic non-sequiturs that play like a Lynch more interested in Black Sabbath than noir jazz, the film isn't as difficult or fussy as it might seem.

It's easy to point at source materials. Mandy is a cocktail of The Virgin Spring (or Last House on the Left, if you prefer), Straw Dogs, I Spit on Your Grave, and maybe even biker exploitation movies like Satan's Sadists. There's some reference to Charles Manson, particularly in the Jeremiah Sand character- a failed folk singer turned cult leader. The aesthetics of heavy metal and trash fantasy also come into play- witness how Cage's character Red Miller has to obtain a "magical weapon" from a "sage" at one point in the story.

Before it becomes an insane quest for vengeance the first half of this film (written by Mr. Cosmatos with Aaron Stewart-Ann)  is a slow-burn tonal story, building up Red's relationship with Mandy, living an isolated life in California's Shadow Mountains. But once the Children of the New Dawn enter in the story- and they summon a gang of vague, possibly demonic bikers called the Black Skulls, the script puts Red in the hunt for those that have wronged him and the much-noted grisly violence hits full swing. It's gruesome stuff but some of it is so pointedly transgressive that you can't help but laugh at it. With that said, I don't think there's a single scene as noxious or repellent as something like that scene from Bone Tomahawk, for example. If you've watched many horror films with a reputation for extreme gore, some of the extremity here might actually come across as fairly tame.

What isn't tame- and in fact what makes Mandy a good film- is that there is a genuine emotional center to what goes on. Mandy and Red's relationship is tender and genuine, loving and sincere. There is a sense of mutual need and comfort in their rural cocoon. Mandy, played by British actress Andrea Riseboroguh exudes a specific kind of almost intangible allure. She's not the manic pixie dream girl- more like the quiet literate doomed girl probably every goth, metalhead, punk, or whatever has fallen for at least once in their lives. When their world is invaded by the Children of the New Dawn, it feels honestly transgressive and tragic, which leads to the film's most shocking and poignant scene. It's a particularly disarming, almost intimate piece that maybe only Nicholas Cage could have pulled off in his tube socks, alone in a bathroom and disintegrating.

There's a lot to love about this film. I'm particularly in love with how the Black Skulls are handled. They are almost as successful as the Cenobites originally were- malicious and vile, but with so many question marks around their very existence. I love the film's willingness to be artful and lowbrow, often both at the same time. I love how the entire experience is enveloping and consumptive. It's best viewed late at night, alone, in the dark.

Mandy's cult status is all but assured- this is one that will be remembered and talked about by genre fans for years to come. I like the movie quite a lot, and I am very pleased that Mr. Cosmatos has recaptured a very fine element that I also loved about his grossly underrated 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow, which he financed chiefly through residual royalties from Tombstone, directed by his father. When I talk about that movie to folks who haven't seen it, I describe as that mythic, apocryphal movie that you always imagined was on one of those tapes at the video rental place that came in those giant boxes with lurid illustrations or photos on them. Both that film and Mandy are films steeped in a haunting, half-remembered but reconstructed atmosphere that feels like 1982 or 1983, filtered through menacing scan lines and throbbing with dark synths.


4 Stars

Barnes on Film - Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018) There Will Be Games

Michael BarnesFollow Michael Barnes Follow Michael Barnes Message Michael Barnes


Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of and as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film. 

Log in to comment
Posted: 26 Sep 2018 08:37 by Gary Sax #282305
Gary Sax's Avatar
Yeah, I did not find the gore as extreme as some are selling it, I'm glad you brought that up in this review.
Posted: 26 Sep 2018 20:55 by GorillaGrody #282355
GorillaGrody's Avatar
I love the scene where domestic bliss is represented by the main characters sitting around, watching old sci fi movies, and sharing a massive heap of mashed potatoes.
Posted: 26 Sep 2018 21:01 by Gary Sax #282356
Gary Sax's Avatar
Beyond the stuff you mentioned that's great (e.g. reaction scenes), one thing I thought was very interesting is how anticlimactic the whole thing is. No spoilers, but the initial challenge he faces after the tragedy is much scarier and more intimidating than the more mortal set that ends the film... by last series of scenes with the final group, his victory seems inevitable. It is kind of subversive to have the scariest challenge happen earlier in the film.
Posted: 27 Sep 2018 07:21 by GorillaGrody #282366
GorillaGrody's Avatar
Gary Sax wrote:
Beyond the stuff you mentioned that's great (e.g. reaction scenes), one thing I thought was very interesting is how anticlimactic the whole thing is. No spoilers, but the initial challenge he faces after the tragedy is much scarier and more intimidating than the more mortal set that ends the film... by last series of scenes with the final group, his victory seems inevitable. It is kind of subversive to have the scariest challenge happen earlier in the film.

Yeah, the pacing of this movie is bonkers, too.
Posted: 27 Sep 2018 10:18 by Dr. Mabuse #282381
Dr. Mabuse's Avatar
I fucking love Cosmatos' first film, Beyond the Black Rainbow. I'm so stoked to see Mandy.
Posted: 28 Sep 2018 12:30 by CapnHowdy #282447
CapnHowdy's Avatar
My favorite film of the year. After seeing it for the first time, I immediately rewatched it again. Then I watched it again a third time a few days later. I couldn't stop thinking about it.

"WTF movies" are my favorite -- and this one definitely falls into that category. The cinematography, score, acting, and editing were all spectacular.

Highly recommend -- especially if you like weird, unusual films.
Posted: 30 Sep 2018 06:39 by Grudunza #282497
Grudunza's Avatar
So incredibly indulgent, but I loved almost all of it. Many wonderful and weird moments, big and small. The laughing, the automatic window, the merging faces, the bathroom scene, the face of ashes, the porn, the commercial, the almost totally pointless but awesome forging scene, the chainsaw dicks...

If I had a quibble, it’s that, while I thought Nic Cage was generally terrific, and that this movie made great use of his Nic Cage-ness, there were a couple of small moments, like with one-liners or aggressive rages of his, where that took me slightly out of the movie, where I had been totally immersed, otherwise.

You didn’t like the score, though, Barnes? I thought it was very fitting for an 80’s setting, both in the Vangelis type serene synthy stuff and the painted on your van metal.

Other stuff:
Warning: Spoiler! [ Click to expand ]

Needed to watch some puppies and bunnies after this one, but it was an amazing experience. I hope I can catch it in a theater sometime with a big screen and an audience.
Posted: 30 Sep 2018 21:13 by Gary Sax #282515
Gary Sax's Avatar
The whole thing where the film motions at his heavy metal superhero *past* is wild.
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 08:47 by Pat II #283057
Pat II's Avatar
This is currently occupying 1st place on the favorite movie list. Loved it. I disagree that there were no rails to go off. Those were some monstrous rails being done in this film.
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 09:05 by Gary Sax #283058
Gary Sax's Avatar
FAIR POINT. I do love that his first reaction after taking care of the knife dick dude is like "alright, sure, let's see how his coke and whatever drug the jar is (mescalin? lsd? I don't have much experience with drugs).

I have been thinking about this movie a lot since I saw it weeks and weeks ago, which is a very good sign. It's helpful that I saw another cult movie since, the one about the El Royale, and it does not hold a candle whatsoever to this one.
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 09:07 by Black Barney #283059
Black Barney's Avatar
I still can’t accept that Nick Cage is good in anything

...except Family Man
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 10:21 by boothwah #283061
boothwah's Avatar
Black Barney wrote:
I still can’t accept that Nick Cage is good in anything

...except Family Man

Con Air. Unappreciated classic.
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 10:48 by Black Barney #283062
Black Barney's Avatar
That scene in the cargo hold is one of the worst delivered lines of all time and is my go to example whenever people wanna praise Nick Cage :)
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 11:37 by Michael Barnes #283064
Michael Barnes's Avatar

Come on, “oh god, not the bees” is the quintessential Nic Cage moment.
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 11:41 by Gary Sax #283066
Gary Sax's Avatar
Disagree. Con Air does exactly what it is intended to do and is directed to perfection. I don't consider Con Air an "accidentally" comical 90s action movie.

There's always Leaving Las Vegas if you want Cage in a serious film.
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 12:42 by Black Barney #283070
Black Barney's Avatar
If I was Steve Buschemi I would take offence to being cast in that role. « We need the ultimate creep here. Somebody call Buschemi »
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 18:46 by Pat II #283082
Pat II's Avatar
Mom and Dad is pretty good and its fairly recent.
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 19:36 by jeb #283084
jeb's Avatar
Black Barney wrote:
I still can’t accept that Nick Cage is good in anything

...except Family Man
Posted: 14 Oct 2018 21:10 by Colorcrayons #283087
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Ghost Rider is the reason why we have so many Marvel films now.