Not to be mistaken for the 1952 British film of the same name about the struggle of a young deaf-mute girl to learn to speak, the new 'Mandy' is a horror film of the so-called 'body horror' variety. 'Body horror' is defined by the 'Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies' as 'a contemporary variant of the horror film with a particular focus on human bodies that are subject to torture, mutilation, mutation, decay, degeneration, and transformation, usually shown in graphic detail via the use of special effects… [and] also known as splatter films as a result of the liberal amount of blood, gore, and bodily fluids shown on screen.'
Wild horses could not drive me to see such a film. Only a gentle nudge from the editor and a nod to Hallowe'en could have induced me. I am not drawn to horror in general. I tend to titter. Fans will not be disappointed. The diversity of human slaughter portrayed in Cosmatos's film, whether by burning, decapitation, skull-crushing or worse, is certainly highly imaginative.
Set in 1983, 'Mandy' is a US/Canada co-production, directed by Canadian, Panos Cosmatos. The Mandy in the title is Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), a creator of lurid fantasy art who has a day job at a petrol station in the woods by the lake where she lives with her adoring lumberjack husband Red Miller (Nicolas Cage). An early scene shows the couple watching a TV monitor showing US President Reagan talking about the economy. The pair lead a quiet, happy life and engage in mumbled, rambling conversations that hint at difficult experiences and psychological problems in their past.
This opening part of the film, depicting domestic bliss, moves at a glacial pace. But their happiness doesn't last for long. Things speed up when religious cult leader, Jeremiah, played by a sinewy Linus Roache (channeling Dennis Hopper, including quotes from 'Blue Velvet') kidnaps Mandy, ably assisted by demonic biker devotees of his Children of the New Dawn cult (aka the Manson family). From then on, the pace is one-note frantic. It is a story that could be told in two minutes flat but is spread over two excruciating hours of luridly lit, over-saturated dark reds and blacks, accompanied by a pulsating musical score from Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson that complements Cage's downward spiral of despair as the blood and guts splatter. Johannsson died in February 2018, and the film is dedicated to him.
Director Panos Cosmatos' father, George P Cosmatos, was responsible for 'Tombstone' (1993) starring Kurt Russell; he also directed 1980s action movies such as 'Cobra', and the final Rambo film, 'Rambo, First Blood Part 11,' both starring Sylvester Stallone. Like father, like son – Panos Cosmatos's leading man in 'Mandy' is another Hollywood actor given to visceral, histrionic performances. Here, rage
is given full throttle by a self-consciously deranged Nicolas Cage.
Cage's pairing with Riseborough is intriguing: Her captivating performance in the BBC television costume drama, 'The Devil's Whore,' won Riseborough a best actress award, and in every role since then, whether in film, television or theatre, she never plays to type. In 'Mandy', she gives a performance that is utterly unmannered and absent of vanity, her face bare of make-up, and her Bette Davis/Susan Sarandon-eyes unflatteringly bespecled.
Mandy wakes from her drugs-induced sleep following her abduction to find another dose of acid going into her system via eye drops, after which she is stung by a ghastly hornet-like creature placed at her throat. The heavily-drugged Mandy is dragged before the pathetic LSD-quaffing cult leader, Jeremiah, who preens and flashes at her and shows off his own song compositions ('better than the Carpenters'). Instead of being impressed, she laughs in his face. This seals her fate – in a scene that is oddly moving, precisely because it is underplayed by Riseborough who manages to convey both physical helplessness and stubborn resistance, simultaneously, in sharp contrast to everyone else's one-note overacting.
Mandy's fate is horribly sealed in a truly gruesome scene (the only time I shut my eyes), and a completely bonkers psychedelic revenge movie moves into gear. It reaches full throttle when, with a home-forged silver-battleaxe, chainsaw and
crossbow, Red hunts down each of his wife's torturers one by one. Cage does unhinged grief more magnificently than anyone else around.
The film then plays out as a luridly-coloured, hallucinogenic bad trip, paying tribute to 1980s heavy metal albums and borrowing from numerous other sources, such as routine revenge thrillers like 'The Evil Dead' and 'Mad Max,' and splatter 'classics' like 'I Spit on Your Grave.'
Yet Cosmatos's film aspires to being one of a kind. Cage as a hand-and-chest-punctured God/Christ-like figure, wreaking revenge on a fallen people, speaking ridiculous lines whilst entirely covered in blood for the whole second half, is not to everyone's taste. But his performance is also very funny in parts. Some of it has to be tongue in cheek, as when a blood-soaked Cage performs first aid on himself in baggy underpants, beer-belly protruding, while pouring equal amounts of vodka into his mouth as onto his wounds. I, along with several other members of the audience, tittered more than once – slightly nervously, admittedly.
Revved up video nasty from the 1980s, it may be – though with a dash of knowingness thrown in (and some animation) – 'Mandy' could well be the next cult classic, God help us. Whether or not this proves to be the case, 'Mandy' (1952), winner of the special jury prize at the 1952 Venice Film Festival, viewed half a century later, still warrants its iconic status. 'Mandy' (2018) may come to be seen as all style and no substance.