Mandy (2018) by Panos Cosmatos
Review by Lydia Creech
Remember The Neon Demon?
I feel like I owe it an apology, for this year’s version of “pretty visuals but ultimately meaningless” misery-fest was 100% a more grueling experience, exacerbated by being surrounded by an enthusiastic midnight movie audience, for whom this sort of shit just feels custom made. It’s never a fun feeling to be out of step with the majority of a crowd, but I can’t help but wonder if this would have played better for me at a sleepy Tuesday matinee, rather than listening to dudes in the lobby loudly proclaim Mandy “a masterpiece” to each other (I went to the second of a two-night midnight screening run) and the crowd bark with laughter (rather forcedly?) at flat jokey-jokes that mar the second half (we’d been assured by the guy doing the intro that Mandy was actually quite a funny film, and it was ok to laugh, really, but, not, like, too much, don’t be a fucking asshole, we’re not here to mock (it’s a masterpiece, you know)).
I know I’ve spent the entire intro reviewing my reaction to the screening experience moreso than the content of the movie, but context should be everything, and the context here is pretentious, “vaguely misogynistic,” genre fare that wishes it were better than its roots (see our Andrew Swafford talking about his reservations about “elevated horror”) being presented to me as a forgone conclusion that it will blow me away. Again, going in with an audience already primed to love it already gets my hackles up (my least favorite parts of the new Halloween were the bits designed to get big reactions), which is a shame as I don’t necessarily enjoy having my biases about who this sort of thing is for affirmed.
Mandy falls neatly into two halves (and the responses on Letterboxd seem pretty split about which half is the better): the first being the probably-better version of a cult doing a home-invasion and senseless murder we’ll get this year, and the second being “ironic Nic Cage” getting his bloody revenge (oh, joy).
I fall firmly on the side of the first half. Here, the dreamy pace and over saturated colors and droning soundtrack actually seem to be working for the themes and story. I know Nathan has justifiably complained in the past about the evocation of drug-usage in movie reviews, but, at least for the first half, it makes sense to me as atmospheric stage dressing for violence at the hands of a religious cult (“Jesus freaks”) permanently on a bad trip. Nic Cage (understated in a good way for most of the time) and Andrea Riseborough (the titular Mandy) play a couple whose woodsy idyll is slowly being encroached upon. As the cult leader stalks Mandy and does some fucked up rituals (to summon some motorcycle hellbeasts that, in annoyed hindsight, just desperately wanted to be Clive Barker creations) and explains how entitled and righteously appointed he is, the feeling of descending into a psychedelic hell is played straight and works nicely. Unfortunately, the movie then just. Keeps. Going.
The second half is…not played straight at all, as far as I can tell, and here is where the designed-for-today’s-horror-fan bits really started to grate, starting with a bizarre cut-away joke to a TV commercial that is just begging to be meme-ified (I mean, on top of the already meme-ified status of Nic Cage, which gets leaned into hard in part 2). When Cage is set free to go over the top, the shape of the story becomes trite and route, and the aesthetic of the lights and the colors and the languidness drops off and comes back choppily (to return to Neon Demon comparisons, the style no longer matches the substance (what substance)).
The joke turns rely on (proudly) Shitlord Internet Denizens going in knowing Cage’s weirdo star persona and then that being sufficient enough to draw laughter (I mean, it seemed to work?). I think what was so miserable to me about the second half was the obviousness of the overtures to the audience. No longer was I being brought in by inviting images or the foreboding mood; instead, what was happening onscreen was annoying and alienating. The gory violence of revenge is an exploitation turn that is hardly explored (and what the movie thinks it’s doing is hardly worthwhile), but I guess because it’s Nic Cage, it’s fun (in case you can’t tell, it was not). Suddenly the movie wanted not to take anything seriously, or too seriously, or the wrong bits seriously, and the bloodier it got (like, an extended sequence of blood pouring into his face) and the more Cage-quipped, the done-er I was. It culminates in nasty homophobic joke (that got the audience good) as the main Bad begs for his life, “I’ll suck your dick, man!”
I’m sure Mandy will find its niche and hit the cult status it’s aiming for (it’s well on its way), but I’m fine with being left behind.