Skip to main content

Oh man, they wronged you. Why they gotta be like that? You exude a cosmic darkness.

Mandy
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Sometimes you're left scratching your head over a movie, wondering what it was about it that had others rapturously raving while you were left shrugging. I at least saw the cult appeal of Panos Cosmatos’ previous picture, Beyond the Black Rainbow, which inexorably drew the viewer in with a clinically psychedelic allure before going unceremoniously off the boil with a botched slasher third act. Mandy, though, has been pronounced one of the best of the year, with a great unhinged Nic Cage performance front and centre – I can half agree with the latter point – but it's further evidence of a talented filmmaker slave to a disconcertingly unfulfilling obsession with retro-fashioning early '80s horror iconography.


There's a ponderousness to the first hour of Mandy that suggests Cosmatos believes he's rendering something of depth, that will get under the skin, but really all he's doing is fine-tuning atmosphere, to be discarded later for Nic going the full Cage with a chainsaw; he's in the service of portentous shlock, basically. I'm sure advocates of the picture are responding to the whole kit and caboodle –mostly the chainsaw fight, though, let's face it – but my reaction was one of listlessness. Mandy's too self-seriously moody to be a fun movie wallowing in its gory tropes, and that moodiness tends towards an endurance test; the addled ramblings of a writer-director evidently far too fixated on his own formative altered-states drug habit, even if it's largely historic ("I just can't do drugs any more"; "Every time I've tried to smoke weed now I feel like I'm in a battle with the demon's embrace. It feels like an epic power struggle against the universe"). 


Cosmatos' garbled account of what Mandy's about suggests he's still suffering the after-effects even when he doesn't try to smoke weed now. Of Cage's Red, transforming into a revenge-fuelled unstoppable force in the second half of the picture, Panos comments "he has sort of modified into this sort of demigod-like, gazing war beast, gollum, sort of enacting pure will on the mortal coil". Yeah, dude! Righteous! Er, what? 


As such, I evidently saw a different film to one of the year’s most visceral love stories "handled with profound sensitivity and told with hypnotic precision". Rather, I encountered an exercise in juvenilia in terms of structure and content, the junk imagining of a fourteen-year-old let loose with a movie trainset and a packet of pseudish gibberish ("I wanted the weapon he forges himself to crystallise, a manifestation of his grief and insanity and not like a real object"). Yeah, it probably is the best movie of the year if you're really high while watching.


Don't get me wrong, Cage and Andrea Riseborough (the titular character) are great, and I'm happy to watch either in pretty much anything (although Cage seems intent on testing his faithful with his output of late), but I'm not wholly persuaded by the great love story allowed to breath in the opening stages. It feels to me that Cosmatos thinks this slow, underwritten, wispy Athena poster of interaction will instil meaning into their relationship and so underwrite the revenge side when Mandy is taken. But it doesn't really. Instead, we're constantly barraged by geek trapping distractions. Mandy's more defined by her Black Sabbath t-shirt than her starlings story, Red by his affinity for Galactacus as his favourite planet ("Galactacus isn't a planet"). 


Early on, I wondered if there might be conceptual coherence to Red's initial choice of Saturn, the expression of the demiurge, that he might be seen in some way to have invited the events that follow, just as Mandy wearing an inverted pentagram may have attracted the cult. But I don't think there's any kind of depth to the references; Cosmatos has just thrown in stuff he thinks is cool. He talks in interviews about how Mandy is Galactacus, "she is the one who eats planets", but the reference is one he added after Cage was cast. It smacks of making it up as you go along. No, I don't want to smoke any more weed. Oh, okay. Go on.


Honestly too, the much-cited vodka-fuelled full-Cage scene, in which Red breaks down in his underpants, did nothing for me. But then, the director refers to the sequence as "an absurdist one-act play", so if he's that removed from making us care about the central relationship, it's not surprising it doesn't quite hit the spot. It pinpoints where the movie is lacking; Cosmatos is big on the atmosphere – credit where it's due, he's really, really good at it – but he appears indifferent to the beats of emotion. The second half is a revenge picture, but it isn't driven by our desire to see Red's revenge, in the manner most such narratives operate (take Straw Dogs, for example, where it's palpable). It just happens. Of course, this is a director who gave his star Friday the 13th Part VII to watch as prep for the movie's climax.


You can dress a movie up in whatever finery you like (if in doubt, throw in some Joseph Campbell), but when you hear "I think maybe one of the first things I realised I wanted done was probably the chainsaw fight", it becomes pretty clear where the viewer stands. Perhaps Cosmatos is genuinely bewildered by the serious attention he's receiving for Mandy. He comments that this is a movie about dealing with loss… Yeah, but so is Death Wish; are we going to campaign for the auteurist rep of Michael Winner? 


Cosmatos seems content to throw in any kind of randomness under the loose label of an alternate, mythologised '80s landscape, believing that's enough. So we get an acid bikers that ate Paris from hell gang that may as well have ridden off the An American Werewolf in London set, just without the accompanying laughs. There's something slightly infantile about his approach. But then, Panos pretty much admits as much, that the 1983 depicted is "this sort of landscape of my childhood memories and my emotions of the time and I’m coping with them now".


Jeremiah: Do you like The Carpenters? I think that they're sensational. But this is even better.

I was going to suggest Cosmatos has no idea about how the Children of the New Dawn, the cult he's created, functions, but apparently there's a seventeen-minute track called My Journey, in which Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) gives his views on the world and God. From the movie, though, they're a mash of incoherent tropes, from Manson-esque musical stylings (and concordant mockery of the same from Mandy – "You wrote this song?" – before laughing). Red refers to them as "Jesus freaks", but there seems precious little evidence for that, particularly since he follows it with "They were weirdo hippy types". Cosmatos refers to "creating this mythological landscape, and then populating it with neurotic people", which to be fair does describe its members, and the jealousy of Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouere) at the new chosen one in their midst (Jeremiah "thinks you’re so special").


They appear marked as a personality cult ("If you’re not with me, you will not ascend") who, of course, take weird William Burroughs drugs ("I like to call that the cherry on top") and have an artificially elevated view of their superiority: "Take a good look, you worthless piece of human excrement. This is the Tainted Blade of the Pale Night. Straight from the Abyssal Layer". Red's a mere human, one of the "Poor stupid dogs. Born without souls". This has been something of a year for cult movies, as in movies featuring cults, but this one's are much nearer to the spurious group of Apostle rather than the clearly demarcated one of Hereditary.


The picture boasts a fine Jóhan Jóhannson score and effectively evocative cinematography from Benjamin Loeb, but when I read about the "unnervingly beautiful and grotesque worlds" of Cosmatos' imagination, my kneejerk response is to suggest "You mean retro synths and a red colour filter?" I'm being reductively crude, but then so is much of Mandy, complete with lovingly silhouetted axed villain's head. There are appealingly goofy touches, like the Ralph Bakshi-esque animated Mandy seen by Red at intervals, but it simply underlines that these are the teenage appetites of its director put on celluloid.


Cage gets some good Cage-isms that will no doubt go down in his lexicon; his obsession with his favourite item of clothing ("You ripped my shirt!" he declares to a cannibal biker before stabbing him in the throat, this after he's dispatched another with "You are a vicious snowflake" sign off). And he takes some weird biker drug – of course he takes some weird drugs – so becoming "a Jovan warrior sent forth from the eye of the storm". Which effectively means he ends up embroiled in a sub-Bruce Campbell/Braindead splatterfest, culminating in his confrontation with Jeremiah, where he grandly announces "I’m your god now". And engages in some orgasmic skull bursting. The effect is nothing so much as puerile. Ultimately, though, this isn't the Cage-rage classic I'd hoped for; there are only a few precious moments offering the kind of manic flip out he's celebrated for, certainly nothing that can go the distance with the monumental insanity of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.


Red: They were weirdo hippy types. A whole bunch of them. Then there was the muscle. It didn't make any sense. They were bikers and gnarly psychos and… Crazy evil.

You've got a plot synopsis for Mandy right there, and just as intelligible. It's clear Panos Cosmatos never got past the early '80s video nasties his dad let him watch unfiltered; at least, it looks as if he's going to be stuck on that track, stranded in 1983, for the rest of his career. Which is a little weird. Mandy suggests his approach is all period reference, with no real identity beyond that. I thought Beyond the Black Rainbow might have been a taster for a director who would grow in psychedelic splendour and thematic depth, but this suggests only regression. There's something of a witless Garth Merenghi about Cosmatos' era-specific genre doodling, but without the accompanying mirth. Mandy's undoubtedly worth a look for the sounds and visuals, but they ultimately serve to emphasise how empty it is.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Well, it seems our Mr Steed is not such an efficient watchdog after all.

The Avengers 2.7: The Decapod
A title suggesting some variety of monstrous aquatic threat for Steed and Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith. Alas, the reality is much more mundane. The Decapod refers to a Mongo-esque masked wrestler, one who doesn’t even announce “I will destroy you!” at the top of his lungs. Still, there’s always Philip “Solon” Madoc looking very shifty to pass the time.

Madoc is Stepan, a Republic of the Balkans embassy official and the brother-in-law of President Yakob Borb (Paul Stassino). There’s no love lost between him and his ladies’ man bro, and dark deeds are taking place with the embassy confines, but who is responsible proves elusive. Steed is called in, or rather calls Venus in as a replacement, when Borb’s private secretary is murdered by Mongo. Steed isn’t buying that she slipped and broke her neck in the shower; “I shouldn’t like a similar accident to happen to you” he informs the President.

The trail leads to wrestling bouts at the public baths, where the Butcher…

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Genuine eccentrics are a dying breed.

The Avengers 3.11: Build a Better Mousetrap
This really oughtn’t to work, seeing as it finds The Avengers flirting with youth culture, well outside its comfort zone, and more precisely with a carefree biker gang who just want to have a good time and dance to funky music in a barn all night long. Not like the squares. Not like John Steed… who promptly brings them on side and sends them off on a treasure hunt! Add a into the mix couple of dotty old dears in a windmill– maybe witches – up to who knows what, and you have very much the shape of the eccentric settings and scenarios to come.

Cynthia (Athene Seyler) and Ermyntrude (Nora Nicholson) are introduced as a butter-wouldn’t sisters who, concerned over the young bikers riding nearby, threaten that “We’ll put a spell on you”. But this amounts to misdirection in an episode that is remarkably effective in wrong-footing the audience (abetted to by Harold Goodwin’s landlord Harris: “Witches, that’s what they are. Witches”). We might have caus…