Critic Consensus: Mandy's gonzo violence is fueled by a gripping performance by Nicolas Cage -- and anchored with palpable emotion conveyed between his volcanic outbursts.
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Critic Reviews for Mandy
Fans of [Cage's] work will relish his extravagantly oddball performance as a dark avenger in this luridly overwrought horror movie.
Audience Reviews for Mandy
It is incredibly refreshing to see something that looks so familiar and yet so unique, drawing from a number of inspirations from the 1980s with its astounding score and stylish retro visuals full of lens flares and psychedelic colors, like some mix of Mad Max and Hellraiser on LSD.
Mandy is a gonzo, psychotropic mood piece that will infuriate some, test others, and delight a select audience that responds enthusiastically to atmospheric indulgences. Set in the 1980s, because of course it's the 80s, a logger (Nicolas Cage) and his titluar girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) have a bad run-in with a small cult. Their leader, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), declares that the god of the universe told him he is entitled to everything, and he picks Mandy. Bad things transpire and Cage is left for dead. He sets off on a quest for vengeance against the cult and a fetish-clad biker gang they employ as muscle, and in the process he might be going insane. So what kind of movie is Mandy? There really isn't a plot here so much as an immersive experience of fever dream imagery with a loving yet detached nod to its cultural influences from the 1980s, heavy metal music videos, Heavy Metal magazines, heavy metal album covers (sensing a trend?). There is the bare bones of a plot here, a revenge formula, but it's really more about the moments and the feelings that writer/director Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) is trying to communicate through the screen. He's another disciple of the Terrence Malick/Nicolas Winding Refn School of Filmmaking, ditching the story details for a visually immersive and hallucinatory sensory experience. The problem with these kinds of movies is that you either check into that wavelength or you don't. I know that sounds like an oversimplification, as all movies either engage or disengage, but because the story and characters are so minimalist, the opportunities to click with the material rely entirely upon the moody atmosphere and creative execution. Mandy is overwhelmingly a campy revenge thriller that celebrates the unique Cage-ness of Nicolas Cage's more unhinged, bizarre performances. This is a movie that asks Cage to go the full Cage, and that can be a beautiful thing. There's a knowing campiness to the whole exercise that doesn't feel condescending. It's not making fun of the onscreen antics so much as it is celebrating the artful absurdity. This is the kind of movie where there's a chainsaw-on-chainsaw duel and it's awesome. This is the kind of movie where every patch of woods has a blast of fog to make it feel like a dark fairy tale. It's the kind of movie where the practical gore effects are stomach churning and memorable. It's the kind of movie where Cage lights his cigarette from the fire of a decapitated head. It's a movie where Cage goes on a journey where he transcends into the mythic. He is no mere mortal by the end; he is the mythic figure of vengeance. The man doesn't just find his foes to foil; he has to first construct his own metallic scythe straight out of a fantasy adventure. Cage is fully aligned with the bizarre and eerie primal nature of the film. His crazed intensity is matched perfectly with the overwrought atmosphere and villains. There are moments where his bug-eyed stare or maniacal laughter will give you chills. He has one sequence that's petty much non-stop screaming on a toilet as he tries to process shocking grief. It's a performance that asks Cage to be unrestrained and tightly coiled at parts, relying more on physicality and intense looks than dialogue. For fans of the ironic and sublimely weird Nicolas Cage, Mandy should be a deranged delight to hoot and holler. However, there's really no entry point for a viewer if they do not celebrate the campy, gonzo, detached atmospherics of the film. Walking out of Mandy, I told my friends that it needed 20 percent more plot and 20 percent less movie. There's no reason this movie needs to be over to hours long, especially with its threadbare plot. It takes far too long to get going, with the cult attacking Cage and his girlfriend at the one-hour mark. The second half has improved pacing but still takes its sweet time too. Cosmatos seems to favor a dreamy sense of pacing, so instead of, say, ten seconds of watching Cage's pained reaction, we'll get 30 seconds. The self-indulgence has a way of making the artful intent redundant. Did we need those extra 20 seconds to really feel the full artistry? Or, perhaps, could Cosmatos have used all the extra time saved from collectively trimming the excess moments and diversions to better develop the characters and story? The other problem with diverting the majority of the attention to atmospherics is that the eventual comeuppance of the cult lacks a full sense of satisfaction. If we don't get to really know the cult members then we won't feel the rush of catharsis when they are dispatched. I talked about this very topic with my review for Peppermint, another revenge thriller with inherent structural problems that mitigated audience payoffs. The revenge formula is a simple thing and engineered to deliver payoffs. Here are two September releases that fumble that formula, although Mandy places less importance upon it. Most of these cult members are given a look, at best, which makes them interchangeable and disposable. Jeremiah Sand is an intriguing, hilarious, pathetic creature, and so the final showdown proves satisfying and somewhat revelatory, as his ego-driven bluster transitions quickly to pleading and bargaining and abject fear. It's a fitfully climactic moment but did we need two hours to get here? There's a better 90-minute movie trapped inside here, subsumed and suffocated by Cosmatos' love affair with his influences and indulgences. This is also sadly the last score from composer Johann Johannsson, who passed away in February of this year. He was an eclectic creative voice whose musical abilities were diverse. He could create a thundering score that felt like an incoming army, like with Sicario, or a soaring melody that could lift your spirits, like his Oscar-winning score for Theory of Everything. With Mandy, Johannsson relies upon those 80s metal influences and produces a sonic landscape fitting for Cosmatos. The score is kept at a rumble that accentuates the nightmarish qualities of the visuals. To the end, Johannsson sought unconventional methods to give voice to his movies. Mandy is a crazy, dreamy, moody movie heavy on brooding atmosphere and light on story and characters. If you can hop on its wavelength, Mandy will prove to be a gonzo good time. If you can't, it's going to be overly reverential to its cultural influences and laboriously long. I fall somewhere in the middle. I'm not a fan of most Refn movies because I feel like they fall into the trap of emphasizing pretty yet hollow imagery. The ideas don't tend to go as deep as the filmmakers think they do, and I grow restless for more. Mandy needed more time spent giving greater shape to its world and narrative. This criticism may sound unfair given the nature of the film (do you ask for the details of a dream?) but I feel dismissing its lack of substance is a step too far. Mandy is essentially a dream with hazy plotting, vivid imagery, and intense feelings, but it can wash away upon waking. I left my theater torn over the movie, wanting to celebrate its artistic vision and weirdness while also wishing there was more weirdness and more of a vision. Nate's Grade: B-
Well then, what have we here? I saw this film's trailer a few days ago and it immediately called to me. It was just one of those movies that, and I mentioned this in my Hell and Back review, would just have appealed to me in my teen days as a young metal head since, visually, parts of the trailer looked as if an old metal album cover came to life. Either that or like a full length Carpenter Brut music video. But, last week, it spoke to me more because of how intriguing its surreal (not to mention garish and lurid) visual style appealed to me. The movie just looked like it was gonna be a feast for the eyes. And, in that regard, it certainly didn't disappoint. This is gonna be a rough movie to review. Not because it's difficult to find what to say about it, since I'm certain I'll have plenty to say, but it's just the kind of movie where my description of it (or anyone else's for that matter) will do justice to the film. That's why there might be some moments where I might describe something in the movie and someone (ha, who am I kidding, no one reads these reviews) might go 'well, that just doesn't seem that special'. You just have to see it. With that said, I think I should preface this by saying that this might be my favorite movie of 2018. To be fair, I haven't seen as many of this year's movies as I would normally like to have seen by this point, but the sentiment still stands. It should be obvious to most genre fans that revenge thrillers really are a dime a dozen. That's not speaking on the quality of these individual films since, obviously, it varies from movie to movie. But the template has been set and there's rarely little deviation from it. And, if I'm being a fair man, this movie doesn't deviate from that template that much. That it does so with an incredible sense of style and visual (and auditory) flair cannot be denied. But it does follow the template set by revenge thrillers of the past. Then again, a strange religious cult summoning supernatural demons to kidnap Red's wife to make her part of the cult (as Jeremiah was immediately drawn to her) before setting her on fire, in front of Red, when she rejects Jeremiah's offer to be part of them is as about as different as it can be for this genre while still working within the same template. What I mean is that the lead character has someone he loves taken away from them and that lead character then proceeds to get vengeance on everyone involved by killing them with a sweet as fuck homemade battle axe. The thing about this movie is that there's very little in the way of conventional dialogue. There's obviously scenes with dialogue in the movie, like when Jeremiah tells Mandy of how he was washed over with a wave love by whatever 'deity' talked to him when he was at his lowest. This scene, as far as I can remember, is the 'talkiest' of them all. What the movie does do, however, is rely on a lot of visual storytelling and it does incredibly well at that. Red and Mandy, in spite of not having many scenes where they say a lot to each other, have a stronger and deeper connection than a lot of couples in rom-coms and I feel that that adds to the rawness of Cage's performance. A lot of what you have to go on is visual and physical interactions between the two and the movie does an excellent job without beating it over your head that Red loves his wife. That's why, in spite of the first half hour being a little slow and quiet, I feel that it is essential in establishing the connection between Red and Mandy. Their peaceful, idyllic existence needed to be established before the Black Skulls (which would be like the cenobites acquired Mad Max-esque vehicles) were summoned by the cult. I think that some people might be put off by the deliberately paced first half hour but, when taking the entire movie into it, I think it accomplishes the goal of setting the mood and the tone of the movie, not to mention establishing the characters prior to everything going down. The movie, and this might be a surprise to some people, is better paced than you would think. I think I'd be one of those that was surprised. The reason I say this is not because I was bothered by the first half hour, but sometimes these movies with very little conventional dialogue end up feeling longer than they are. This movie, however, isn't like that. No scene is wasted and everything that you see is of importance and significance. With that said, I did find the villain(s) but, mostly, Jeremiah Sand to be totally intriguing. I don't know if they were going for a whole Manson Family vibe but, obviously, that's the first thing that's gonna come to mind. Jeremiah Sand is a charismatic leader and, much like most cult leaders, probably took advantage of people who really needed some sort of spiritual or emotional support. There's also this interesting concept that the movie plays with where this chemist, who apparently may have led to the creation of the Black Skulls, has provided these potent, mind-altering chemicals to the cult. That's why there are certain scenes, like when Jeremiah tries to get Mandy to join him, where his voice is a little distorted and the image is a little psychedelic. These chemicals, seemingly, allow Jeremiah to keep his members under control. Everyone but Mandy, who was forcibly injected with these chemicals, and Red who, unknowingly, drinks some of it while on his journey to murder everyone responsible. It brings to mind the MKUltra series of illegal experiments the CIA did. It's a very interesting and richly detailed movie. But, the thing of it is, that this is probably the type of movie that takes repeat viewings to fully digest and understand all of its subtext and symbolism, which seems necessary without the use of constant conventional dialogue. The score is also really fucking great, so the movie, as I mentioned, not only attacks the eyes, but also the ears as well. The score perfectly compliments what is going on at any time. But the movie, on top of making you think and utilizing a distinct visual style, also works really fucking well as a revenge thriller. I think Panos Cosmatos, who's someone I'm gonna keep my eye on from now on (even though I did remember wanting to see Beyond The Black Rainbow, his first movie, a few years ago) understood that this movie, in spite of how visually intriguing and surreal it is, doesn't exactly work without the satisfyingly violent and bloody vengeance the movie is clearly building towards. But, in my opinion, I think what makes this part of the movie work is how they decidedly do not rush things. The last 50 or so minutes of the movie are dedicated entirely to Red crafting, as mentioned, his fucking sweet as fuck battle axe and hunting down, first, the Black Skulls and then cult followers and its leader. And it is oh, so satisfying and quite brutal. The most gruesome death, to me, is when he takes the other end of his axe, which he made into a knife, and he pushes it down the throat of one of the cult members. You get to see the progress too, they don't shy away from it at all. And really, I mean, you get to see Nicolas Cage go fucking nuts, which is why most people wanted to watch this movie anyway. In fact, Red takes the same mind-altering chemicals that were either forced on Mandy or used to create the Black Skulls so he gets to go even crazier, if such a thing was possible. There's also chainsaw battles. Seriously, what more can you ask of this movie? The revenge part of the movie might possibly the most satisfying of any I've ever seen. Or at least it's the most satisfying I've seen in quite a while. So, yea, as I mentioned, this might be my favorite movie of 2018. It is tremendous. It works as surrealist visual storytelling, but it also works as a violent genre exercise. The performances while, in some ways minimalist thanks to its similarly minimalist dialogue, are still tremendous and raw. And, at the same time, I still feel like there's a lot of this movie that I've yet to digest and/or discover so, again, repeat viewings are essential in figuring out all of this film's little mysteries. I loved this movie and while I think not everyone is gonna love it as much as I did, I would gladly give this a recommendation regardless. It's one of those movies that as many horror fans should see, even if they don't like it, because it just feels like Panos Cosmatos is on the verge of becoming someone really special in horror, if he isn't already. Regardless, this movie was tremendous. Can't say much more else than that.
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