Monday, October 15, 2018

Panos Cosmatos's Mandy

Cody watches Nicolas Cage seek revenge on Blu-ray.

I've been looking forward to director Panos Cosmatos's film Mandy with great anticipation ever since June 7, 2017, which is when it was announced that Nicolas Cage would be starring in this "surrealist, heavy-metal-soaked story of battle axes and demon bikers", which would be set in an alternate universe version of 1983. That description made it sound like this was going to be one of the coolest movies ever made. When the trailer was released, I thought it looked incredible, and the reviews from festival screenings built my hype up even more. Although they cautioned that the first hour was a slow burn, they said the pay-off was some gloriously insane violence and the sight of Nicolas Cage doing hallucinogenics in the middle of the action. Then Cage gave an interview in which he said one source of inspiration for his performance was Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th franchise, as his character gradually becomes a silent, brutal killing machine. I couldn't have been more sold on Mandy...

But I really should have tempered my expectations, because it might have been impossible for the movie to live up to what I was imagining.

Cage stars as Red Miller, a logger who lives in a house located deep in the forest around the Shadow Mountains, down near Crystal Lake, with his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). They live a quiet and chill life out in the wilderness, with both of them trying to put troubled paths behind them - and the scenes that offer a snapshot of their quiet life, mixed with some in which they discuss their interests and past traumas, help Cosmatos make that first hour an achingly slow experience. Eventually Mandy draws the attention of the Children of the New Dawn, a cult led by a very strange fellow called Jeremiah Sand, played by Linus Roache. Oddly, Riseborough and Roache look so similar that Cosmatos is able to dissolve back and forth between their faces in such a subtle way that you might lose track of which one you're looking at.

Sand wants Mandy for his own. It's sort of weird that he would be infatuated with a woman who looks just like him, but he's a weird guy. So much so that, instead of just approaching Mandy and trying to woo her, he summons a group of bikers called the Black Skulls to abduct her from her home. The Black Skulls are the "demonic bikers" mentioned in that original description; actually, they're drugged-out bikers who have been driven insane by a "special batch" of LSD, but they do require a human sacrifice if you use their services.

After being ripped out of her home and drugged, Mandy rejects Sand. So he has her killed, right in front of a bound, bloody, and brutalized Red. The second half of the film then focuses on Red's mission of revenge, as he arms himself with a crossbow, a battle axe, a chainsaw, and other implements of destruction to destroy the Black Skulls and the Children of the New Dawn.

The first half of Mandy (the movie) is slow, but the slowness doesn't end once Mandy (the character) has been killed. I thought the film would be shifting into a new gear at that point, I was hoping for a manic, cathartic bloodbath. But Cosmatos continues to be fascinated with his (admittedly awesome) visuals, scenes continue to be milked for every second they can provide, and the violence is never quite as cool as I had been led to believe it would be.

I found Mandy to be decent in the end, but it's a movie I would have enjoyed a whole lot more if it ran 90 minutes instead of 121 minutes. And it would have been very easy for this movie to be 90 minutes, if Cosmatos hadn't packed it with so much overly artsy slowness. This is a flashy exploitation movie delivered as a ponderous arthouse movie.

On a technical level, this is a great achievement, as the cinematography by Benjamin Loeb is wonderful to look at - and the scenes are paced so slowly that you have plenty of time to appreciate the visuals Loeb captured. They're paired with a score composed by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson that goes perfectly with the "'80s tribute to rock album covers" vibe Cosmatos was going for.

Mandy is worth checking out, and different viewers will have different reactions to the pace. While some felt like I do and think the movie could be shorter than it is, others become completely wrapped up in its slow, dream-like atmosphere. The film is coming to DVD and Blu-ray on October 30th, with an interesting 22 minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a 14 minute collection of deleted and extended scenes.

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