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LFF Exclusive Review: Mandy

As previously discussed in my piece for Actober, Nicolas Cage is a tricky actor to tame and control. Sometimes if he let off his leash, then he’ll ”act up” but given the right director, the right scripts and a strong supporting cast; Cage can deliver a strong performance and balance the eccentricity without going over-the top. This is what happens in director’s Panos Cosmatos Mandy.

It’s hard to find the words to describe Mandy, it’s best described as an experience. It’s an epic film which starts off with a slow-descent into hell in the first hour and a blood-soaked climb out of it in the second and final act. Climaxing with all sorts of crazy violence and action including a chainsaw fight (yes, you did read that correctly!).

Set in 1983, Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live together in their strange woodland cabin beneath lava-coloured skies. They debate which is their favourite planet (she makes a good case for Jupiter), we see her sketching and reading fantasy novels in a Mötley Crüe T-shirt. The two of them seem perfect for each other. Their life is simple, but pleasant enough.

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However, there’s trouble just around the corner for the couple. It comes in the form of a strange cult of misfits led by a messiah-complex leader (Linus Roache) who is high on hallucinogens when spies Mandy and “must have her”. His followers capture her and, when she does not submit to his advances (indeed laughs at his manhood), she is set on fire while Red, tied in barbed wire, is forced to watch.

Deeply traumatized, Red is destroyed, and there’s a sequence in which Cage drinks an entire bottle of booze while in his underwear, howling like an injured animal. This is a powerful scene which would be laughable, if the situation wasn’t so bloody bleak and horrific. From the destruction, a new version of Red emerges, one that is an unstoppable killing machine bent on getting his revenge.

Cage is on top form here, and going full ‘Nic Cage’ mode. We see him drenched in blood, snorting an enormous amount of cocaine off a glass shard after killing several crazed zombie-like bikers. Much of the film’s humour comes from Cosmatos and co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn’s screenplay, full of quotable dialogue such as ”Did you rip my shirt? DID YOU RIP MY SHIRT?” which is destined to become a meme on the internet.

But it’s not just the dialogue and Cage which make this film enjoyable, Andrea Riseborough is delightful as Mandy, but is slightly under used and it’s shame that she isn’t given more screen time. Linus Roache is also superb as the evil and twisted Jeremiah Sand who is one of the year’s most demented villains.

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Jóhann Jóhannsson’s synthesiser-heavy score and Benjamin Loeb’s colour-saturated cinematography takes this film to the next level, cementing it as a cult classic for years to come. This is the type of film which if it had been released in 1983 it would have ended up on the video nasty ban list. Certain scenes in Mandy play out like a LSD trip or a coma induced dream with slow motion violence playing out like an elegant ballet dance. The heightened colour palettes amplify the trippy, surreal natures of the entire experience. Mandy is a fascinating experiment in the revenge genre and is perhaps the most unusual traditional horror movie that you’ll see this year.

The overall result is two hours of surreal mayhem, bloody, brutal violence and just pure entertainment. A word of warning to those who are squeamish as you may be put off this film, especially when there are heads being pulled off shoulders and eyes being gorged out. Mandy is original in its visuals, but still is traditional in terms of its formalic narrative. It is, at its core, Mandy is a biblical tale of evil and vengeance with a David versus Goliath pay-off at the end. People will either love or loathe Mandy, but I guarantee that you won’t see another film quite like it this year.

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