Released: 21st September
Seen: 21st September
There are some horror movies that work best if you’re already a fan of the genre. Movies like Scream or Cabin in the Woods are films that mostly work for people who aren’t complete horror nuts but fans appreciate them on a very different level and get a whole different kind of enjoyment out of them because they are familiar with what those films are referencing and, therefore, get a better surprise when those films subvert the tropes that they’re referencing. Mandy is a film that definitely fits into that group, it might work wonderfully for non-genre fans but for fans of Horror and especially fans of 70’s-80’s horror, it’s something special.
The plot, such as it is, follows Red Miller (Played by Nicolas Cage) a lumberjack who lives in a cabin by a lake with his artist girlfriend Mandy (Played by Andrea Riseborough). The two of them have a rather peaceful life where they sit in their cabin, read, watch old movies and get bathed in bright blue light from the sky while they sleep. Mandy works at a little store nearby and one day as she walks to work, a van carrying the Children of the New Dawn passes her. The Children of the New Dawn are a cult led by the charismatic Jeremiah Sand (Played by Linus Roache) who decides that he wants Mandy, to be specific he believes Mandy is meant to be his according to god. Once he has Mandy as his own, he soon learns that she isn’t as into the idea and… well, to say what happens would be a spoiler, but suffice to say that what happens is more than enough reason for Red to go get bloody satisfaction. Short version? Nicolas Cage runs into Charlie Manson’s gang, they mess with him so he returns the favor. It’s not exactly a complicated plot but ‘plot’ isn’t the most important element of this movie. It’s the framework that everything else is carefully hung from.
A non-horror fan could watch this and will probably follow the plotline and enjoy it, but the film references so many other movies in the genre that part of the joy of watching it is seeing how they effortlessly work in nods to previous films in the genre and uses those reference to create a unique tone that provides a lot of the tension. The visual style choice to use bright garish colours is a clear reference to Dario Argento’s Suspiria. The main characters in the film live in a cabin in the woods, itself an Evil Dead nod, that happens to be located right near Crystal Lake. A setpiece is lifted expertly from the second Texas Chainsaw movie. There are three leather-clad demons who are into pain and covered in pins or have their faces seemingly surgically altered, reminiscent of Hellraiser. Shots referencing the movies Heavy Metal, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Shining are everywhere and I’m certain that there are other references that I missed because I was so swept away by the power of the movie.
This is the kind of film that’s going to inevitably be the subject of a video titled “57 References In Mandy You Never Noticed” and it all works to help tell the story. It uses these references, mashes them together in just the right amount that it becomes something unique and powerful. It’s impossible to tell where the film is going to go and it plays with that, you don’t know if it’s going to go to a relatively normal, albeit strangely lit, talk between a couple or if we’ll be watching a drug-fuelled talk by a cult leader that makes the audience feel like they took all of the LSD. It’s one hell of a trip to watch and a visual marvel. The only visual downside to this is that it uses the dreaded strobe lights that I personally can’t condone (So when you spot the visuals aren’t given 5 stars, those strobes are why. I will NEVER give 5 stars on visuals to a movie if it decides to use strobes), but at least this movie is made for adults so it’s a little better but I feel like I need to warn people just in case.
Every shot is truly art. There are some movies where you could say that every frame should be printed as a poster and hung on a gallery wall, but here I genuinely mean every single solitary frame. There isn’t a moment of the film where they drop the ball. The framing, the lighting, the inventive use of slow motion or blur effects all create imagery that is genuinely stunning. There are moments when the film will create a strange haunting visual and it will do it so carefully and gradually that it’ll catch you off guard. It knows when to linger on something horrifying to make it have a visceral impact and it knows when to be quick to shock the audience. This all creates a tone that elevates this revenge story into something special, a lost film from the 80’s that just happened to be made in 2018.
The performances are amazing, stylised and engaging. Nicolas Cage uses every single bit of his performance style when needed. He goes effortlessly from subtle and kind to angry and crazy. There are moments when he will do the kinds of facial expressions that have become memes, but they work in this context and he does them only when his character has clearly lost his mind. Andrea Riseborough doesn’t get many scenes to really make us fall in love with Mandy but she does it within seconds, creating this fascinating character with a devastating backstory that is genuinely fascinating. The MVP of the movie is Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sand, an imposing figure who is charismatic and creepy in the exact way that one would expect from a fanatical cult leader. It’s impossible to look away from him, you know he’s a bad person but you get why people follow him and it makes it all the more shocking when it becomes clear that he genuinely believes what he’s saying… mostly.
This film has been hyped to kingdom come… believe it, this is something special. It’s certainly not for everyone, some might not be into that style of film but if you’re someone who enjoys the classic 70s and 80s style of horror film, then this was tailor-made just for you.
NOTE: The visuals lost 1.5 stars due to the strobe lights. If a film I go see does strobe lights for no reason (Spoilers, there’s never a good reason) I’m going to deduct marks from Visuals. If it’s particularly egregious in this regard (*cough*Incredibles2*cough) then I will move up to the directing. I know it might not seem like a big deal, but it is to me and I’m the one scoring things. If the strobe lights weren’t in the movie, it’d be 5 stars easily