More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

There was quite the buzz about Mandy amongst weird film Twitter, where we’ve been known to hang out, so much that it leaked into the mainstream. As much as something like this can, at least. So, what’s the deal with Panos Cosmatos’ second outing, a mere eight years after his debut? Well, I’m not completely sure, to be honest, but let’s discover that together, shall we?

Red Miller (Nic Cage) is a lumberjack, and he’s okay. For a short while, anyway. Living in a remote cabin with his artsy girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), the unconventional pair seem very much in love and happy. For a short while, anyway. Cue cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache)’s appearance, taking a passing fancy to Mandy and issuing orders to his assorted hangers on, freaks and geeks to procure her for some crazy mystical nonsense reasons that he may or may not believe, but his followers certainly do.

The gang, including three Hellraiser-esque bikers who are, for a short while, anyway, introduced as actual blood-drinking demons, bring Mandy back to their lair, but even after a drug-addled indoctrination she’s not compliant with their wishes. The obvious next step – incinerate her in front of a helpless Red and leave him for dead. However, he doesn’t die, and with the added indignity of them ripping his favourite shirt, it’s enough to set him off on a roaring rampage of revenge.

Stopping off at Bill Duke’s home to pick up some murder supplies, he’s told of the rumors of how dangerous this lot are, in case he needed more warning than he’s already witnessed, and hints are thrown around about Red’s past that imply some of the particular set of skills that will make him a nightmare for people that burn his loved ones to death. So begins the cavalcade of vengeance, and framed like that, Mandy sounds like a fairly standard revenge flick.

It is not.

Where to start? Visually, I suppose may be the easiest – it’s quite the most aggressively graded film I’m ever seen, making Suspiria seem like a muted exercise in restraint. It’s a disorienting deluge of color overlays that’s by turns disgusting, pretty, distracting and engaging. It’s bizarre.

Perhaps most notably, however, it’s a Nic Cage turn that sets, or at least comes very close to setting a new high water mark for “full Nic Cage”. His transformation from content hippy to frothing madman makes for a remarkable set of scenes, culminating in the bathroom meltdown you may have seen on your Twitter account, with the remaining hour or so being no less memorable, particularly when combined with the extreme visuals on display.

It makes what would otherwise be a series of slightly odd vignettes of violence become something truly memorable and remarkable, albeit in ways that I still cannot yet work out if they should be sorted into the bucket marked “genius” or the bucket marked “abysmal”.

I’ll say this – it’s clearly far from perfect, with cult leader Linus Roache in particular being a nonentity that did not make for compelling viewing, and the half hour-ish stretch where he’s given reign in the scenes with the cult members and the abduction of Mandy and so on came quite close to exhausting my patience. At about 2 hours, this film is about half an hour too long, and it’s this half hour, in particular when there’s no motivation, creed or logic behind the cult and their actions other than Kanye West levels of crazy. Coming after the slow start establishing Mandy and Red’s peaceful life, I was getting a tad annoyed with the deliberate quirkyness and about to mentally check out before it switches gear and turns into a more whacked out Crank film.

The last hour is a mesmerisingly insane riot of sequences that, whether you’re onboard or not absolutely demand attention, with action and visuals that left me in gales of laughter. I’m assuming we’re not to take this seriously. Surely? Actually, I’m not sure of anything this film, or Nic Cage in general does. When he’s interviewed, he doesn’t seem like a maniac, and gives broadly sensible reasons for playing certain characters the way he does. Yet this is clearly the work of a madman.

That’s not fair. It’s the work of an entire team of mad people, dedicated to artisanally crafting a mad film. Your boring, conventional judgements of “good” or “bad” are not an axis this film chooses to grade itself on. It’s shooting for “memorable”, and it’s most certainly that.

Bonkers. Couldn’t make it up. Particularly the Cheddar Goblin.