Sundance 2018: Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy

On Film / The Daily — Jan 23, 2018

Mandy, screening in the Midnight program at Sundance, “is a midnight-movie festival unto itself,” declares A. A. Dowd at the A.V. Club: “over two gonzo hours, it combines giallo, Clive Barker, Death Wish, prog rock, heavy metal, Heavy Metal, Guy Maddin, Mad Max, the dueling-chainsaw climax of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Nicolas Roeg, and Nicolas Cage at his most bugging-out unhinged. Were scientists to engineer an uncut, 100-proof cult sensation, it would probably look, sound, and kick like this. Of course, like a lot of synthetic drugs, Mandy could also cause its fair share of overdoses, at least for those with a less-than sky-high tolerance for nonstop ‘trippy’ lunacy.”

“Panos Cosmatos’s 2010 debut feature Beyond the Black Rainbow was the kind of movie that divides genre fans into two camps, the enraptured and the infuriated,” writes Dennis Harvey for Variety. “Visually striking but awfully murky in the realms of plot and meaning, it signaled the arrival of a talent that might prove formidable, or might turn out to be all style and no substance. Fortunately, his followup Mandy maintains all of Rainbow’s aesthetic fascination while considerably stepping up the pace and narrative coherency.”

Cosmatos “shows an impressive expansion of scope while still retaining a hazy psychedelic palette, but most compelling is his union with the perfect actor to lead this psychotic vision: Nicolas Cage.” Jordan Raup at the Film Stage: “Working as a lumberjack in what looks like the Pacific Northwest, but is labeled as the otherworldly location of The Shadow Mountains, Cage’s Red Miller lives a humble life, enjoying his intimate relationship with Mandy (Andrew Riseborough). . . . Something lurks in the darkness of the woods, and after talking a walk amongst the blood-red treeline, Mandy is acquainted with the gnarly-looking cult named Children of the New Dawn. Their leader takes a liking to Mandy and soon she’s captured by what can only be described as S&M fiends-meet-death metal band from hell. While we won’t spoil her fate, let’s just say the catalyst for Cage’s path of blood-thirsty revenge is more warranted than any film of its ilk in recent memory.”

“Fans of Cage’s recent spate of grindhouse-grade performances will find his most delightfully unhinged turn since Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, though the screenplay (credited to Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn) falls short of giving the character much depth,” finds IndieWire’s Eric Kohn.

“Under miasmic layers of 16 mm and 35 mm, the film plays out like a fever dream one might experience after passing out in an all-night grindhouse on the Deuce,” writes Noel Lawrence at ScreenAnarchy. “Its rich phantasmagoria of saturated colors, lens flares, and intricate lighting strategies recall the imagery of Henry-George Clouzot's Inferno. Heavy Metal also figures prominently in several animated sequences that would do Moebius proud. And the ominous synth-driven prog-rock score from Johan Johansson makes for the perfect retro soundtrack.”

“One doesn’t often get to make a flattering comparison to Bergman’s Persona, but here we are,” writes Scott Nye at CriterionCast. “Riseborough, playing a character under heavy sedation just barely able to make her will shine through, will go largely unheralded against Cage’s more outlandish performance, but her steady, no bullshit energy is captivating.”

“As if its sole goal was to take the heavyweight title of Nicolas Cage’s Craziest Movie Ever, Mandy exhibits what Shakespeare called ‘vaulting ambition’ in producing the nuttiest ways for Cage to get into one phantasmagorical showdown after the next,” writes Nick Allen at RogerEbert.com.

For Deadline, Joe Utichi talks with Riseborough about the four movies she’s in screening at Sundance this year, and Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh interviews Cage.

Update, 1/24: April Wolfe tells Eric Hynes and Nicolas Rapold about Mandy in a recent episode of the Film Comment Podcast (36’35”).

Update, 1/26: “More than a story, Mandy offers large blocks of mood and emotion in which to luxuriate—until you can’t.” Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice: “Cosmatos’s visual style borrows from psychedelia, Frank Frazetta illustrations, J. M. W. Turner paintings, and the way oil and blood swirl in puddles of mud. . . . Cage’s character is at peace in the movie’s first half and full-tilt bloodthirst crazy in the second—and I took very little pleasure from his nuttiness even as the actor goes admirably all-in. I don’t think we’re meant to, because Mandy is heartbreaking: There’s one lengthy close-up right around the middle when we see the light literally go out from Cage’s eyes.”

Update, 1/27: “Cage has always been a great starter kit to introduce straight men to camp,” writes Kyle Buchanan at Vulture, “and he more than delivers here, offering a mad-dog performance that has everything you’d want from the downfall phase of his career but works precisely because there is a great actor underneath it all and because he does tap into something so ferocious that other people wouldn’t dare to touch.”

Updates, 1/30: In the Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore finds that “Cosmatos’s ability to put us in Red’s head—overwhelmed at first with pain and fury, then saturated by the strange drugs he for some reason feels compelled to try—makes this much more than the usual exercise in vicarious bloodshed. At first elemental—more Valhalla Rising than Kill Bill—it moves toward something more in keeping with the cult that brought it about. As Red descends into their strange hideout (which is capped with an A-frame chapel that recalls the church in There Will Be Blood), this becomes cosmic horror, a spectacle meant to inspire awe.”

“Just as the build-up to the bloodshed takes its sweet time, so does Red’s path to revenge,” writes Monica Castillo at Little White Lies. “His aim takes a detour away from the murderous cult and onto some masked motorcycle gang, delaying the much more gratifying sequences of retaliation. Another disappointment is Mandy’s role as a sacrificial lamb—especially given that the film bares her name.”

Updates, 1/31: “I can see why this appeals to others, but just didn't have any fun with it myself, and couldn't take it remotely seriously, either—it was just kinda there, leering madly at me for two mostly lugubrious hours,” writes Mike D’Angelo.

“Cage’s performance is as generous in tranquil moments as it is outsized late in the movie,” writes Russ Fischer at the Playlist. “He gives much of the first half of the film over to Riseborough, but when he is present he’s attentive. He’ll play in the background of a scene, while remaining actively invested in what Riseborough is doing. It’s not the sort of work we often see from Cage, and it’s nothing like the uncontained emotional explosion we expect from some of his wilder work. The second half of the film is that explosion in slow motion, and it’s wild.”

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