Review By Michael Kalafatis (Stoke on Trent)
The Shadows Mountains 1983 A.D. Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) lives with his artist girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) a serene and idyllic existence while their reclusive behaviour hints towards a difficult past that it’s never mentioned. When Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a sadist leader of a cult calling themselves Children of the New Dawn sees Mandy from a distance while he is in a van with his disciples, he is instantly transfixed, and he orders one of his disciples to kidnap her. The disciple recruits a gang of psychotic, murderous and supernatural bikers called The Black Skulls, who will awake Red Miller darker side and lead him to a path of violence, death, mental breakdown and mind bending psychedelic trips. Red punishing path evokes Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole, but Red’s trip does not lead to Wonderland but Gehenna.
Mandy is divided into two halves, the first part is quiet, tranquil and light on plot. This first part utilise subtle musical score that incorporates eerie and haunting synths, that comes in direct contrast with the idyllic lives of Red and Mandy, who share tender moments watching TV or talking about their favourite planets. The synergy between the haunting soundscape and cinematography bathed in luminous red in this part convey ominous undertones and an invisible threat that has yet to materialise but is anticipated. The second part is when the film changes gears, the tranquility of Red’s domestic life is abandoned, what follows is carnage, eerie sceneries, screeching guitars, religious iconography and Nicolas Cage giving an insane performance while his character justifiable loses control by consuming alcohol and psychedelics, a perfect casting choice.
Mandy’s cinematography is highly saturated with the colour red (even its main character is called Red), you will not encounter so many hues of red in any other film, it is the reason that even the quiet parts of the film feel so eerie and unsettling. Red is considered as the colour of extremes, it connotes passionate love, violence, danger, anger, fire and blood. All these various connotations of red are featured all throughout the narrative of Mandy, and with the narrative progression they become more prominent. The various hues of red become more enveloping and asphyxiating as Mandy approaches its end, even the characters are bathed in luminous crimson as they lose their minds from psychedelics and violence. Mandy as it follows Red’s haunting path it steadily and gradually become more visceral, gruesome and surreal, thus towards the climactic scene it becomes a vision of Hell on Earth.
Panos Cosmatos the director and co-writer of Mandy has created both in the narrative and iconography something that resembles a heavy metal album cover sprung to life, even the plot works as a collection of songs featured in an album, every sequence has its own rhythm, some are quiet (the scenes between Red and Mandy), some eerie (scenes about the Children of the New Dawn), some horrifying (the Black Skulls) etc. Cosmatos’ Mandy is one of the strangest film of the year but also very imaginative and experimental, especially when it tries to simulate the use of psychedelics drugs. In the scenes that features psychedelic consumption Cosmatos utilize more disturbing score, psychedelic cinematography that leaves a lingering green ghostly residue around the characters and distorted dialogues that are more akin to demons than to humans. These scenes are more effective because it is a direct attack on us, the audience, it feels like we have also consumed psychedelics, these scenes evoke in a strange way the “Star Gate” sequence in Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey.
Cosmatos last film Beyond the Black Rainbow featured characters who spoke in a deadpan way, a thing that made the film feel very unapproachable and cold. I had the same impression while watching the first half hour of Mandy, which features only Red and Mandy, but with the arrival of the Children of the New Dawn and especially their leader Jeremiah, whose behaviour is very erratic that rivals Cage own crazy performance later on. These two performances are vital into the world building of Mandy’s violent, cruel and punishing crimson world.
In his last composed soundtrack Johann Johannsson creates a soundscape that delves into menacing ambient, doom drone and black metal, it is the main reason that Mandy from its opening credits successfully convey foreboding and makes its world more palpable. Johansson’s score is not solely influenced by heavy metal but also the 1980s electronic synth tones albeit in a much darker way. Johannsson has composed a score that has many facades, at the first half of the film, it is menacing ambient and very slow and minimalistic just like the narrative of the film, it is the element that creates the strange ambience and unknown threat that we are certain is fast approaching. This anticipation is what makes the first part of the film so eerie and haunting even though little is happening with the progression of the narrative. The second half starts with an explosion of screeching heavy metal guitars, loud drum beats and menacing doom drone as Mandy approaches its climax. Although in the second part the score does not take as much central part as in the first part it still makes a lasting impression.
Verdict: Panos Cosmatos has created a film unlike anything released this year, a psychedelic trip into a cruel world of demonic bikers, religious iconography, unrelenting violence and catharsis.