Gory and stylistic, “Mandy” is a sometimes-clunky thrill ride that is not for the faint of heart.
It is very often that I find the fault of a movie embedded in its pacing issues. Most of the time, a movie comes to a close too quickly, but in some cases, it feels too long. I anticipate that many moviegoers will have this same critique about “Mandy” (2018) by Panos Cosmatos. “Mandy’s” first act in particular is characterized by excruciatingly slow scenes, some of which take up to 10 or 15 minutes. However, “Mandy” uses additional characteristics that make the entire viewing experience an unforgettable one.
“Mandy’s” uses of stylistic techniques are completely original, and yet they feel familiar. The color scheme is harsh and unforgiving; almost every scene incorporates black, red and blue, giving the film a dark, grit-your-teeth-until-they-bleed aesthetic that matched its tone. The production is beautiful, and every shot is a composition that could live in a museum. This, accompanied with the drawn-out pacing of the film, felt exceptionally relieving, like a breath of fresh, unhurried air. With the current attention- (and money-) grabbing blockbusters from large studios like Marvel and Disney that seem too cautious to ever release a film that fully develops interesting shots, it is inspiring to see a movie like this get a theatrical release, albeit a limited one.
This film features Nicolas Cage as Red, the main character, and Andrea Riseborough as Mandy, his girlfriend. The first act develops the main characters, as well as the antagonists, a group of hippie cult members led by Jeremiah (Linus Roache). When Jeremiah sees Mandy, he orders his cult members to capture her and tries to seduce her into joining him. When she refuses, he becomes angry and kills her, burning her in front of Red.
This first act was met by many of the other moviegoers with silence —nobody knew how to respond. The first 30 minutes of this act was paced very slow, and since we did not know the characters well enough, it seemed a bit out of place. However, what kept me going was the breathtaking cinematography, the stylistic choices like the color palette and lighting and the acting, which was elusively minimal, sometimes to the point of being creepy.
The second act is where this film finally picks up the pace and begins to resemble more fast-paced films: Red, filled with rage, tracks down the “Black Skulls,” three ominous humanoids that the cult had hired to kill Mandy. After getting captured, then killing them, Red consumes experimental LSD, which the Black Skulls lived on, and hallucinates a tower on a hill. He finds the hill and interrogates a chemist, who then tells him the location of the cult.
This act was extremely entertaining and fulfilling because I finally understood the meaning of this film. It was not meant to be taken seriously, its purpose was to revel in the irony of its purported seriousness.The film is aware of its comedic seriousness, as is evident by Red nonchalantly snorting a line of crack after killing one of the Black Skulls. From then on, this film was fantastic. The pacing quickened, the style was still present but more bearable and the scenes, although still drawn out, were now met with laughter by the other moviegoers.
The final act centered on Red’s revenge. As if in a video game, axe-wielding Red walks up to the “final boss battle” as an intense droning metal guitar track plunges into our hearts. This sent shivers down my spine, and I knew the rollercoaster of a film was at its final ascension. After killing most of the cultists, Red finds Jeremiah, and after a lengthy monologue, crushes his head in his bare hands. Afterward, Red sets the entire church ablaze and leaves it in an epic fashion. Finally, he sits in his car and looks over to the passenger seat, where we see he is hallucinating Mandy there with him. She is beautiful and carefree, and he is deranged. The film ends as he drives off, the atmosphere around him alien and warped, much like the entire film.
It isn’t perfect, nor is it going to please most people. But this film is a shining example of expectation-based value. That is, if you watch it with the expectation that it will be cohesive, serious and realistic, you won’t appreciate it. Only when you accept that this film is trying to have fun with you as you watch it can you fully understand it in all of its glory, comedy and beauty. That is the purpose of “Mandy.”