Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Mandy (2018)

Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and Red (Nicolas Cage) live absurdly peacefully in a home in the deepest darkest forest. Both clearly have pasts of the complicated kind - he, as it will turn out, the kind that teaches a guy how to forge a battle axe that looks like abstract art or rather a lot like the Celtic Frost logo (good taste) - but have found a place for themselves that looks like an eternal now. This of course can’t last. The leader of one of those hippie murder cults roaming all American backwoods, one Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), happens to spot Mandy walking through the woods, and wants to possess her in all imaginable ways and those you’d rather not.

So Jeremiah’s henchmen attack Red’s and Mandy’s home with the help of an associated gang of mutant (it’s the drugs!) bikers; and when Mandy’s reaction to being drugged, played Jeremiah’s bad self-written psych folk record and getting shown his penis is to laugh, he does react rather like you’d expect by burning her alive. The cultists leave Red for dead, which turns out to be a bit of a mistake, for fuelled by what is clearly a returning alcohol habit, hallucinations and visions of Mandy, drugs, and sheer bloody rage, the walking wreck of a man slaughters his way up the mutant biker/cultist food chain.

I absolutely loved Panos Cosmatos’s first film, Beyond the Black Rainbow, for its complete insistence on film as an aesthetic experience instead of a plot-driven one, among other things. When it comes to this approach to filmmaking, Cosmatos’s second feature Mandy continues on the path the first film set. It is basically everything the first film was, but more so.

So we get something in theory inspired by an early 80s exploitation movie and heavy metal cover aesthetic that in practice looks and feels like no film or album cover made in that era actually does, but rather like a fever dream recollection of one, taking the idea of what this sort of film is and does and intensifying it so much it becomes stranger and stranger – and these films were often pretty damn strange already. That Mandy’s plot, such as it is, is a series of clichés, but turned up to eleven again, is just the logical conclusion to Cosmatos’s aesthetic approach; it’s also as beside the point as a criticism as it is in my other great favourite example of a film whose aesthetics and their meaning are the point rather than the plot or the meaning the plot contains, Argento’s Inferno. A lot like metal or a symphony, these are films best approached by experiencing them and viewing their plots as frames to be filled with the visual, aural, etc elements that are the actual things they are about. Which doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a lack of a point or theme to the film, it’s just not made in the way many a viewer is still most used to. At least to me, it is difficult not to see Mandy as a film very concretely making visual the inner world of a man broken by the loss of his wife, speaking through their private codes and shared artistic preferences. Cosmatos, fortunately, never pulls the sort of “it was all a hallucination” kind of reveal that would make this too obvious and too concrete, understanding that your evil hippie cults and mutant bikers can very well be real for the characters and real in the world they inhabit yet still carry other meanings.

Cosmatos also finds room for some great, larger than life – because only people larger than life can exist in this sort of dreamscape - performances here. Riseborough’s presence is rather special. Even though the role of the woman killed to induce a murderous rampage is usually an unthankful one, her performance suggests a woman who found the sort of knowing innocence some, very few people, reach after they have gone through some pretty horrible things, and makes the cliché painfully real. Cage has by now developed actual control over his personal style of overacting, where a decade or so ago it looked very much as if it were the other way round (I sometimes imagine him possessed by a crazier version of himself riding on his back). He is going big here, obviously, but he’s going exactly as big as any given scene needs him to, an often unrecognized art; he might be turning into Vincent Price in his old days.

If it’s not perfectly clear already, Mandy is a film that’s as if it were exactly made to my personal specifications, therefore coming with the warmest recommendation for any viewer that’s me.

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