Director: Panos Cosmatos
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache
Just lately, physical media outlet HMV have started repackaging classic cult titles in VHS boxes. Inside are blu-rays, but the chunky throwback aesthetic is to another period’s tech altogether. This marketing choice has seemed strange to me; inauthentic nostalgia without the follow-through (what about putting an actual VHS in there?). But they’re adding a new film to this range; Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy; and its perhaps the only title selected for which this confused set of mixed messages – mashing up past and present – truly makes sense.
1983, the Shadow Mountains, California. Nicolas Cage is lumberjack Red Miller, living in an isolated house in the woods with his goth wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). One day whilst she is out walking, Mandy crosses paths with The Children Of The New Dawn; a local cult ran by the hippie-esque Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Though he only sees her in passing, Sand becomes preoccupied with Mandy; he must have her.
These are the basics of the beginnings of Mandy, but they do little to convey the enforced strangeness of the movie.
Those of us who enjoyed the internet’s obsession with Nic Cage and reminisced with glee over his ‘out there’ performances in the likes of Vampire’s Kiss or Bad Lieutenant have weathered some increasingly tough years. As the former A-lister takes on any job going with bill-paying banality, the excitement and fun once conjured has dissipated and turned to abject distrust and boredom. Between Mon & Dad and this, however, old hopes might just be reborn.
And while Cage is suitably unhinged in this project (he totters around in tighty-whiteys and a tiger sweater for a stretch of it), he is upstaged wholesale by master of ceremonies Cosmatos, who presents his story as though filmed through the prism of a thousand My Bloody Valentine album covers. With steady, dreamy pacing, the events of Mandy unspool in a haze of neon smoke and magenta filters. The movie is one giant shimmering bruise, crawling forward like a Nicolas Winding Refn picture on peyote (so, like a Nicolas Winding Refn picture).
The film’s very beginning is a collage of layered images, recalling motifs used by the likes of Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now or Peter Fonda in his revisionist western The Hired Hand. The arbitrary early 80’s setting speaks of this fondness for an era feeling the hangover of the 70’s. There’s a rough-hewn graininess to Mandy also, along with a fondness for slow-bleeding lens flares. These intense stylistic overtures dominate the first half of the film, but are dialed down for the more traditionally violent, pacier crescendo.
There’s a lot of love for horrors of yore here – and cult movies in general – but the referential glee has a habit of leaving Mandy merely in the thrall of giants and unlikely to legitimately join them. In that sense it shares the mixed blessings of Rob Zombie films, or those of Ana Lily Amirpour. Cosmatos most likely sees his film as a comedy; especially in its second hour when Cage becomes cast as an avenging angel in a baseball tee taking on what look like cosplayers of Hellraiser. Perhaps it is this sense of irony that makes it a product of the now.
Style over substance? Positively, but Mandy makes for compelling viewing nonetheless. With animated dream sequences and dialogue exchanges taking place with mesmeric slowness, it dislocates the viewer from measurable time. It’s two hours long, but while you’re in it, its tough to determine how deep into it you are. It’s feasible that given time, Cosmatos’ film will acquire a cult following and become viewed with reverential fondness in its own right, but the director’s eagerness for it is wholly transparent.
“You’re a vicious snowflake,” Cage’s Red tells a biker in a gimp mask who is holding him prisoner, before beating him over the head with a pipe and sending him falling into a seemingly bottomless chasm. If you’re comfortable with such outré business then it is likely you’ll find much to enjoy in the woozy delirium of Mandy, but realise that there’s not much separating this from the likes of Hobo With A Shotgun or Turbo Kid. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing necessarily, but it is what it is.