When sitting down to write a review, the last thing you want to implement is a cliche. However, once in awhile it is so apt that no better words or turns of phrase could be used. I’m of course referring to “style over substance,” in the case of MANDY which is the latest film from director Panos Cosmatos. Every so often, a viewer can settle in and accept the fact that a movie can simply be an experience of mood rather than a wholly original story. This would be the case for this particular film, in which I warmed up to its first hour only to find myself a bit distanced by the second, due to its familiarity of revenge movie tropes and gory confrontation.
Cosmatos’ last work was a bit of a head scratcher in its own right. BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW had some of the most stunning visuals I had seen this side of Kubrick and Lynch, but not much beyond its neon aesthetics to speak of. With MANDY, one might settle in for a love story initially, but that is disrupted by the sudden shock of trauma once a bunch of demons and cult figures come into play. The love story surrounds Nicolas Cage as Red and the title character played by an unrecognizable Andrea Riseborough. They seem to live a peaceful, idyllic life in the wilderness but of course that doesn’t last once Linus Roache and his followers show up to kidnap then murder Mandy. The moment we see the horrendous demise through the eyes of Red, is pretty much where I knew where this story would take us. Oddly enough, when I even saw the name Bill Duke in the credits at the beginning of the film, I even guessed the part of he would play: weapon supplier who lives in a trailer home. Obviously, he is there to provide Cage with the essentials and information he needs to go hunting for the bad guys.
To say that this is more than just another DEATH WISH on hallucinogens would be an understatement. Cosmatos knows how to draw out, protracting certain sequences to where you are immersed in transcendent unpleasantness. It’s safe to say that MANDY relishes the dreamscape aesthetics along with a noble attempt to create an emotional connection to Cage’s grief and anguish. In a way, it reminded me of how Nicolas Winding-Refn got caught up in his own visual flair with ONLY GOD FORGIVES, another film that left me cold the longer it went on. But there was a bit of a tonal inconsistency here that didn’t sit well with me. One minute we’re witness to Red’s breakdown in a bathroom, a tour de force of acting from Cage that is equated to his basement breakdown in MOM AND DAD from earlier this year. The next he’s fighting some kind of demonic creature, screaming “You ripped my shirt” with voice-breaking glee in a way that only Cage can pull off effortlessly. It was hard for me to know whether I should squirm, laugh or cheer on Red in his quest for revenge. Yet there’s no denying that one gets enveloped within an atmosphere between hell itself and a pulse-racing video game of Argento-esque horror overloaded with gore and weapons.
The predictability of what takes place did get the best of me, though there’s no second-guessing Cosmatos as a remarkable visual stylist that is attempting to go deeper. He’s clearly been affected by tremendous loss in his life to where there are moments in the first hour where I easily could’ve been taken in a direction, a direction that most critics seem to have embraced at a mere glance of the majority ratings that are out there. But I grew detached as the body count increased, instead of thrilled by the prospect of Cage going berserk with rage and drunken self-destruction. Granted, if you are a fan of Nicolas Cage, this is definitely a performance of his worth seeing. Outside of that, there were a feeling of dislocation in the midst of it all that exhausted, instead of invigorated. Maybe it’s all meant to be more melancholic and disheartening because, well, that’s what sudden loss does to a person. In the end, it didn’t make for a constant, congruous experience that was intended to keep me on edge for how things were transpiring. I almost felt a sense of numbness by the proceedings which simply could be due to a brain that doesn’t get as much out of the revenge narrative, even when it’s doused in a grainy heavy metal cosmic glow. I still wanted some sense of surprise and wonder, that I did not experience outside of its setup. I had a much more profound viewing experience with a much more different, futile take on revenge with YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE from earlier this year. MANDY has a lot of strengths and it’s definitely worth experiencing, but much like the director’s previous work, I kept going back to the aforementioned cliche throughout watching this film. My thinking is that maybe he will dial it back next time and for me personally, the third time could be the charm for such a promising director that has yet to fully work its magic on me personally.