Mandy hit the festival scene this year with an impressive showing at Sundance. A late night horror movie with some impressive gore elements, the film saw some definite critical acclaim. Is it worth checking out? What do you need to know about Mandy before venturing out to see if in theaters?
Mandy follows the borderline unintelligible story of Red (Nicolas Cage). The man appears to be living a fairly idyllic nineteen eighties life in the middle of nowhere until his wife…girlfriend… that chick he lives with… Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) is brutally murdered by an extremist religious sect. In his grief, Red finds himself thrown into a quest for vengeance. Panos Cosmatos directs the film from a script he co-wrote with Aaron Stewart-Ahn.
Cosmatos combines with cinematographer and DP Benjamin Loeb to craft lurid and beautiful imagery spanning the narrative. The movie jumps between a Stranger Things-esque, nostalgic 1980s aesthetic to more vibrant and almost over-the-top red tinged shots. As the story moves into the end of the second and the third acts, the cinematography becomes vital to setting the mood and ultimately the scene of the picture. Particularly striking is the way in which the camera-work interacts with the sometimes copious amounts blood in the frame, resulting in deliciously artistic imagery. In fact, the interesting and stylish look of the film plays a larger role than even the screenplay in setting the action.
Unfortunately, Mandy is a definite example of cinematic style over substance. This is largely thanks to noted weaknesses in the script. Character development is largely non-existent, rendering the names of everyone (with the exception of the titular Mandy) difficult to remember. This vague construction extends to the world of the movie, which is just as thinly built. As Mandy opens, viewers find themselves dropped straight into the action; however, there’s no attempt to explain what is going on. This is a particular struggle as this is clearly a dystopian world where something happened. Why are Red and Mandy so isolated? What lead to all these monsters? With the amount of unknowns hanging over this script, it is decidedly difficult for audiences to get invested in the narrative.
The film’s treatment of its female characters is particularly horrendous. The presence of religious extremism seems to be the textual justification for not only their on-screen torture, but also shoehorning the women into roles which are little more than sex slaves. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t do them the justice of developing them as individuals in order to compensate for this material. They are simply “whores”.
Meanwhile, Mandy‘s performances are a definite strength. Riseborough is intriguing as Mandy, bringing a subtle and understated depth to her portrayal. It’s a shame that Mandy is so underdeveloped, as the film would flow that much better by giving her more to do. At the same time, Cage brings a powerful intensity. He is in practically every scene, and as such has a lot to do. He carries it on his quirky shoulders with relative ease. It isn’t until midway through the second act that his performance feels typically “Cage”-ey. As the story comes to an end, he’s once again the Nicolas Cage we know and (usually) enjoy.
While Mandy is marketed as a horror movie, much of the scares don’t hit. Once the third act rolls around, all bets are off and the narrative finds a tone which can best be described as The Evil Dead meets Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s random. Really random. Mandy isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. There’s a couple respectable moments of gore horror; however, they are few and far between. Unfortunately, the film also has a tendency to over-edit, which takes the visual emphasis off the horror they’re attempting to build. Instead, the fast and jumpy cuts interrupt the flow. While a lot of scary material exists here, Mandy doesn’t capitalize on its horror, instead loosing its focus in a sea of poorly developed fluff.
Mandy is a small horror film which can’t seem to capitalize on the terror it wants to build. Ultimately, the lack of a coherent script hampers the movie in a number of ways, largely overshadowing some very interesting direction. Unless you are a Nicolas Cage fan, leave this until it’s available to stream.
Mandy is in theaters around the country now.