Mandy is, truly, one of the strangest films I have ever seen.
Taking inspiration from the quirky yet dark beats of Darren Aronofsky, this second cinematic entry from writer-director Panos Cosmatos does not hold itself back from pushing the boundaries of the modern thriller genre. The brave steps taken in this film both favour it and, in places, hold it back.
The film is set in the 80s and follows the quiet life of a couple, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), as they are ravaged by a manic religious cult and their demonic biker henchmen, whose leader believes he must have Mandy. Chaos and madness ensue as Red seeks revenge.
The biggest strengths of the film come from its dark and chilling tone. Cosmatos does a great job of getting under the viewer’s skin with his vibrant yet unnerving visuals, with particular moments really causing me to clench up. One particular shot of Riseborough’s creepy stare is still engrained in my head. This tone is set from the get-go, with an unusual opening text alluding to the adrenaline-fuelled second act, followed by a bleak opening sequence with overhead shots of the forest where it all takes place. Cosmatos plays well with obvious colours throughout the film to reinforce the moods of each scene; whilst this can feel a little spoon-fed to the audience at times, it mostly does a great job of subconsciously amplifying the viewer’s emotions. The acting is fantastic across the board. Nicolas Cage does a surprisingly great job as the lead, but Andrea Riseborough steals the show with her incredibly chilling and bleak performance. All of the cast add further to the film’s eerie tone. All of this is backed up by a fantastic score by Johann Johannsson (yes that is his real name), which uses an array of different sounds to wrap around the viewer and help to engulf them into the film.
This film is, however, certainly not without its flaws. One of the main issues I had with this film was a real sense of detachment from the characters involved. It is at this point where Cosmatos’ stylistic direction works against him. The film did not spend enough time focusing on Red and Mandy’s relationship, and in enough detail, for me to really empathise with the decisions that the characters made later on in the movie. This sense of detachment restricted me from becoming fully emotionally invested in this film, and it made it more so just a thrilling piece of fun entertainment. For many, this will not be an issue, but it is the fact that Cosmatos missed a beat he was clearly trying to hit that was quite disappointing. The film’s plot also seemed a bit confused at times, taking itself in one direction then quickly changing to another. It does so, as at times Cosmatos expects a little too much of the viewer in quickly being able to follow what’s happening, with various plot holes and unanswered questions left at the end of the film.
Overall, Mandy’s merits lie in its brave stylistic direction and over-the-top themes, hitting in some spots and missing in others. None of the actors hold back in their roles which allows the film to be as crazy and as fun as it wants, as well as disturbingly horrifying at times. Whilst some scenes are a little unnecessary and confused, it is clear that Panos Cosmatos has a lot to offer going forward, and I am excited to see what he will produce next.