BFI London Film Festival: Mandy

Directed by Panos Cosmatos
Starring Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, Richard Brake and Bill Duke
Music by Jóhann Jóhannsson
Screening at LFF October 11th, 12th and 17th 2018

by Joanna Orland

Designed to a T to be a cult hit, Mandy will divide audiences. Staged in three acts, the film contradicts itself in the seriousness of its tone, starting with the setup of Red (Cage) and Mandy (Riseborough) going about their days, living in their rural home near the idyllic Shadow Mountains. Outside of cracking a solid knock-knock joke, star Nicolas Cage has very little to do in the first act and is hardly seen. The next act then shifts focus to the Children of the New Dawn, a hippie cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Roache). Mandy catches the eye of Jeremiah, and the cult kidnap, drug and murder the poor woman – all in front of Red. This leads us to the third and most over-the-top act where Red seeks revenge on the cult, and Nicolas Cage goes full Nicolas Cage in the Nicolas Cagiest performance I have ever seen.

Stretched over two hours, director Panos Cosmatos has created quite the artistic vision with Mandy. Set in 1983, and filmed in the aesthetic of the era, the lighting and visual style are stunning. Reminiscent of Berberian Sound Studio in feel and pace, Mandy begins as a mood piece with horror subtext and imagery. There’s a lot of LSD use, at least in the background, and it’s probably better watched while you’re on the substance yourself. At least give yourself a few hours of smoking something before you delve in.

The musical score is equally masterful, one of the last by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Bringing out their inner John Carpenter, Cosmatos and Jóhannsson work well together to create a high end art piece with Mandy. It lulls you into its beauty, all the while dumbfounding you with its schlock horror content.

From reading a description of Mandy, it’s easy to be drawn in by this schlock horror aspect – Nicolas Cage in a horror cult film, going all Ash from Evil Dead on the baddies. And while this does happen, and it is glorious, it happens so late in the film and makes up such a small percentage of the content, that it’s hardly worth sitting through the rest for the payoff. What this film greatly needs is an edit.

The first act feels redundant. In a film with so many camp ideas, why waste time on such a slow setup? We understand Red will be devastated by Mandy’s murder and will want revenge – this is such a cliché that the audience doesn’t even need this relationship to be established. She could already be dead at the start of the film and the third act would have the same impact.

The second act could be condensed. The cinematography and score really do thrive here, but this film needs to trim 40 minutes, and here is the meatiest act ready to be picked apart. There were many walkouts from the cinema during this section, as it had gone on for a long time with very little action, in quite boring fashion. Stylish and grim, but boring. Those expecting their Nicolas Cage fix had maybe spent only a few minutes with him in the film by this point. Mandy waits far too long to deliver on its promise.

The third act should be longer, and basically the entire film. As soon as Mandy is murdered and Red escapes, it’s like the lights have been turned on for Nicolas Cage and his performance strays into batshit territory. Immediately, the film’s tone changes and bizarre comedic elements come to the forefront; the Cheddar Goblin (don’t ask), Cage’s bizarre bathroom grieving scene, camp dialogue like “It’ll cut through bone like a fat kid through cake,” and so on. Cage amps up his performance, knowing that people have come to see him be crazy – even when the tone of the film may not even dictate it. It almost feels like he wasn’t given a script and was just told to ‘react’. The audience lapped it up, laughing whole-heartedly. Where was all this for the first 90 minutes? This is the film Mandy is meant to be.


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