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31 Days of Halloween

Mandy Review: All style, little substance

Mandy is an uncompromising, grisly film.

As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

Mandy is an uncompromising, grisly…boring film. Its aesthetic predilections, perfectly honed by cinematographer Benjamin Loeb and composer Johann Johannsson (in his last score, R.I.P.) are unflinching, beautiful and brutal. However, while its character-driven performances, particularly Nicolas Cage’s are fantastic, hilarious, and wholly unique under the direction of director Panos Cosmatos, its pacing is varied, uneven and faulty to a noticeable, detracting degree.

Is it worth seeing, then?

Mostly. The best parts do try their hardest to outweigh the bad and largely succeed, and on that front alone, any horror or action-revenge movie fanatic shouldn’t miss this but it’s not an entirely enjoyable watch.

What’s It About?

Following Red (Cage) avenging the murder of his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) at the hands of a demonic hippie commune, The Children of the New Dawn, headed by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) the film plays like a heavy metal, acid-washed take on John Wick. That’s it.

What Works

The Visuals

A largely naturalistic first half replete with panning shots of evergreen forests and dark, star filled nights and warm, loving embraces between Red and Mandy gives way to a demonic red neon glow, blood spattered walls and more smoke than any smoke machine factory on Earth could seemingly produce. It’s a delightfully fun push and pull that tips the balance an hour into runtime (following Mandy’s death) as a giant title card reading “MANDY” appears and doesn’t let up and Red enacts his revenge on demon biker gangs through chainsaw fights, cocaine-fueled wrestling matches, and centipede filled otherworldly drug visions. Everything here both in subject and rendering is thoughtful, unique and fun – perfectly straddling the line between believable and unreal as the plot ramps up. There’s also a totally insane, unforgettable commercial involving a mac and cheese eating, and vomiting, goblin that even if you hate the rest of the movie, you can’t possible help but love.

The Music

Johannsson’s score is a throbbing, aching ambient piece that brings in grinding and gritty electric guitars and soaring synths in equal measure. These pieces feel embedded in the movie itself rather than on top of or below scenes, they rise and fall in great harmony with the visuals, taking cues from the plot and enhancing the total ridiculousness of everything in a really fun, ethereal way. It’s an inspired choice to use the same instrumentation as the time period the film takes place in but to not pull directly from any one source of inspiration or sound (although Carpenter may be the closest) and rather create something new.

The Performances

If this isn’t the best Nicolas Cage vehicle in existence, it’s close. The plot here gives him the breathing room to really lean into insanity and gleeful, murderous abandon and he takes it with aplomb. One extended scene that follows him freeing himself from a barbed wire crucifixion of sorts through viewing the aforementioned Cheddar Goblin commercial, and then still to a vodka-induced breakdown in a bathroom is carried totally believably, wonderfully, and characteristically by his willpower alone, without too much of the trademark overacting Cage has been plagued by recently. The murders, crazed expressions and all, are fun- but the character work he smartly employs to get there first (and which Cosmatos most likely encouraged) tell us a lot about the man beneath the blood in a great way before those get underway. Roache’s take on a seedy, evil and sniveling commune leader who may or may not have made a deal with a literal devil is equally great, funny, and awe-inspiring in a similar way, setting up a fantastic villain to place Red against.

What Doesn’t Work

The Pacing

While the second half of the film is a heavy metal, blood soaked roller coaster, the first half drags noticeably and uncompromisingly. There are too many shots that linger on scenes with no reason, lines are given weight in and purpose in a seemingly uneven application and there’s inexplicable leaps in logic that get us to the second half but don’t really bother to explain almost anything along the way. It feels like Cosmatos wants to really revel in the relationship Mandy and Red have by giving us long, loving shots of them but without dialogue or even movement to support it and things kind of drag. When that title card appears halfway through, akin to Wick hitting the hammer to the concrete in his basement in the first John Wick, it feels like things have really started to great relief.

The Themes

It’s hard to say Mandy is about anything in particular. The case could be made that it’s about cycles of violence, about toxic hyper violent masculinity and the poorly thought out nature of revenge porn – but all of that would be a stretch. Ultimately, the film brushes past those themes (especially as Cage grows increasingly crazed and seemingly uncaring) and flirts with them, but doesn’t land on a significant or salient message and becomes a film reveling in the things it might have otherwise been reeling against. It’s a fantastically fun movie to watch, it just doesn’t have much to say.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, Mandy is a flawed delight. It’s an aesthetic masterpiece, all of the elements working from an 80s influenced heavy metal and neon-tinged palette but also feeling entirely their own that Cage and others get to have a lot of fun in. It’s also a boring, kind of meaningless drag that leaves you wanting. The good outweighs the bad in the end, but just barely.

Is it good?
Mandy is a fun but unfulfilling grindhouse film that revels in incredible aesthetic direction including great cinematography and score but fails to connect on a deeper level.
This might be the best Ghost Rider film ever unintentionally made.
The total harmony between visuals, score, and camerawork is unparalleled.
Cage and Roache's performances are equally mad and fantastic, channeling a kind of toxic male fury and villainy alike that sets a character-driven tone very well.
The first half drags beyond its means, lingering on shots and moments for seemingly no reason.
While there could be good points made about violence, men, revenge etc. here - and they're touched on - the plot ultimately steers away from making any lasting point.

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