Tuesday 16 October 2018

MANDY - London Film Festival review

Arriving in a storm of hype about Nicolas Cage's performance, Panos Cosmatos's Mandy screened as part of the London Film Festival and is now on general release.

The first thing to get out of the way is that 'Mandy' is not a film, but rather two, bisected down the middle and separated by a title card bearing the film's name, bleeding onto the screen an hour in. The first part, shown to be called 'The Shadow Mountains, 1983 A.D' is the starter before the main course of Cage led mayhem, and the set up for what is to come. Cage appears fleetingly and has a passive role, the focus (perhaps confusingly, given the title) is on Andrea Riseborough's Mandy, an illustrator and the wife of Cage's lumberjack, Red.

When a religious cult leader and a gang of demonic bikers arrive at their door, Mandy is subjected to Jeremiah's (Linus Roache) rhetoric, some mind expanding hallucinogens and some Carpenters on vinyl. What is most surprising about this section of the film is how slow and trippy an experience it is. Even before Roache and the Hellraiser-esque bikers turn up, Red and Mandy's home life is shown to be darkly ethereal, their bedroom surrounded by huge windows that connects them (spiritually and literally) to the woods outside.

With its array of kaleidoscopic colours and some truly retina expanding visual trickery (most notably in a cross fading conversation between Riseborough and Roache) you find yourself pulled into its trance like nightmare as all manner of horrors wash over you. It's not an altogether unpleasant experience, but if you aren't fully invested in what's going on, it may have the effect of being read a bed time story by someone on a heavy acid flashback.

The film has a clear change of gears when the Cage door is finally opened, fuelled by rage and a secret bottle of bathroom vodka, it's in this back half where all the crowd pleasing moments lie. At this point in his career, Cage has become known for his on screen madness, and although Mandy does contain some vintage Cage-isms including a neck snapping scene that elicited a spontaneous round of applause in the screening I saw, it's just a drop in the ocean of crazy Cage supercuts and far from the unhinged madness word of mouth would have you believe. It's in this second half where the film leans into its sick sense of bizarre humour, not least the very strange appearance of the 'Cheddar Goblin' that, although funny, doesn't meld well with the psychotropic world we've been invited into. It's as if they have hit upon a 'viral' moment by accident and have opted to include it, even to the potential detriment of the film's established world logic.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, which is helpful as Cage's Red is definitely more of a do-er than a talker. A lumberjack by trade, when he begins his revenge mission with arrows that will "cut through bone like a fat kid and cake" and a huge, self-forged axe, the demonic forces he faces better watch out. The film makes no excuses for its macho-ness and when Cage is at loggerheads (yes, that's a lumberjack pun) with the demonic bikers, Mandy includes a chainsaw ballet complete with the most audience appetite whetting reveal this side of Crocodile Dundee's knife.

It's worth investing in the film's trippier first half to get the pay off when Cage is set loose. A disturbing, psychotropic nightmare of visual mayhem, despite some flaws in its pacing and logic, Mandy is an experience like nothing else.


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