Friday, September 14, 2018

'Mandy' Review: A violent, fantastical dream.

I think, in this time of big franchise filmmaking, and most popular films being these formulaic and streamlined crowd pleasers, we have kind of lost the thread on what the medium of film can really bring to life. So many movies are concerned with grounding their mythology in reality, and too seldom now do we just get to float in an artist's pure, unadulterated vision. Mandy is unquestionably one of these rare visions.

As I went over in my Fall Movie Preview, one look at the trailer for this film will tell you whether or not it is for you. It is what it is, and it really doesn't try to sell you that it is anything other than that. This is a violent, dreamy, neon-lit ode to a forgotten era, and it is totally entrancing.

The film stars Nicolas Cage as Red Miller, and Andrea Riseborough as the titular Mandy. They are a couple living a quiet life in a cabin deep in the woods. A quiet life, at least, until a cult rolls through town, and the leader, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), decides that he wants to take Mandy as his new concubine.

Think what you will of Nicolas Cage at this stage of his career, but the man knows what his schtick is, and he has dialed in on it in a way that too few actors do. In Mandy he is at his most Nicolas Cage ever, but is also maybe delivering his best performance in recent memory. Even if what he is doing in the film is completely over the top, within the context of the film, he fits right in like a perfect piece  of scenery. This movie does not work without Cage in this leading role.

Andrea Riseborough is totally transformative in this film. She is pale, slender, and her big eyes and light eyebrows give her an almost alien feel. She is the only soft spoken and gentle presence in the film, so for her to appear somewhat otherworldly is perfect.

This movie is beautiful to behold. The scenes of blood-soaked ultraviolence are just as breathtaking as the colorful and subdued shots of the two lovers laying in bed, just staring into each others' eyes. And how lucky this film is to be one of the last films scored by composer Johann Johanssson before his death. The score is used with restraint, but the slow moody synth kicks in at all the perfect moments, accentuating the already totally engrossing atmosphere of the film. The entire film has a very old-school film grain look to it. All the colors are super saturated, and they all sort of blend together into an amorphous dreamscape.

Director Panos Cosmatos has only directed one other film, the equally as bizarre Beyond the Black Rainbow, which I didn't care much for at the time, but is a film that has grown on me in the years since I first saw it. But between these two films, it has become obvious that the man is a thoughtful and totally uncompromising filmmaker with a very particular eye for things.

The film overall does read as a scathing takedown of the fragile nature of masculinity. Without going into a lot of detail, there are a lot of interesting things going on with penises in this movie. The villainous cult leader at the film's center is all too reminiscent of the weak-willed and cowardly straw men currently trying to run America into the ground. But this is certainly a dense film, and I suspect will hold up to multiple rewatches. And it will probably take a handful of rewatches for even with most cerebral filmgoers to really get a grasp on their interpretation of the film.

This movie was one of my most anticipated films of 2018, and it pretty much delivered for me on every level. This is the kind of movie that almost seems tailor-made to appeal to my particular sensibilities. It is a movie, though, that I will find difficult to recommend to others, because it's really a movie that escapes an easy definition. It sort of exists in the space between action and horror, between schlock and high art. But I think if you are one of the rare few that latches onto it, it will be a film that stays with you forever.

I give Mandy a 5 out of 5. It is in theaters in limited release, and on video-on-demand right now.