I’m currently attending the BFI London Film Festival, so will be popping in with reviews of everything I get the chance to see. Just the one movie today, and it’s Nicolas Cage’s latest two-hour freakout in Mandy…
It takes at least 45 minutes for the title card of Mandy to arrive, making James Bond look like a maestro of minimalism when it comes to opening sequences. Of course, it’s less a case of a lengthy opening than it is a clear dividing line that splits this movie in half. It’s 50% slightly pretentious folk horror – there’s more than a hint of A Field in England‘s hallucinogen-fuelled mania – and 50% all-out grindhouse homage. But there’s only one thing that anyone will be talking about – and that’s Nicolas Cage, continuing his quest to discover decibels previously unknown to mankind.
Cage plays logger Red Miller, who lives a secluded existence with his titular wife (Andrea Riseborough) – a fan of sword-twirling fantasy novels who has a penchant for rock band t-shirts. A passing lunatic (Linus Roache) spots Mandy one day and decides he must have her as part of his satanic cult, hopped up into a murderous frenzy by a tainted batch of LSD. Before long, the aforementioned lunatics have kidnapped the couple. So it falls to Cage – and a preposterous, hand-forged silver battleaxe – to fight his way out of this particular pickle, while gurning, grunting, yelling, squealing, crying, shouting, raging and snorting cocaine off shards of glass.
It’s a madcap descent down a psychedelic rabbit hole, designed almost exclusively for devotees of midnight movies and cinema chains in which audiences are encouraged to throw amusing items at the screen. The cinematography from Benjamin Loeb is deliberately delivered with the grubby grain of a video nasty, punctuated with lashings of lurid reds and blues that recall the infamous boat ride from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, accompanied by a cacophonous, foreboding score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. All of the style in the world, though, wouldn’t be enough to rescue the meandering, languorous first half, moving at a snail’s pace from ponderous scene to ponderous scene.
Director Panos Cosmatos, who also co-writes with Aaron Stewart-Ahn, walks a bizarre line between grindhouse and arthouse in these early stages, before opting to dive firmly into the darkest corners of the VHS aisle. This hog-wild second half might have been interesting, were it not for the fact that the film falls victim to the insurmountable black hole that is Nicolas Cage at his most unrestrained and loopy. Much like Mom and Dad earlier this year, Mandy is impossible to take seriously because of the sheer comedy value of Cage. An extended scene, in which he cycles from tearful grief to chugging vodka before gnashing his teeth and grimacing into the camera, is destined for meme royalty and the movie’s emotional finale is entirely scuppered by his goofy face.
None of this is necessarily the fault of Cage himself, but it’s impossible to deny the strength of the cult of personality that has built around him. The LFF press screening for this movie frequently broke into ripples of applause and raucous laughter at Cage’s most GIF-able moments, which rather flies in the face of the eerie atmosphere Cosmatos is keen to establish in the early stages. There’s deliberate comedy and unintentional comedy throughout, with the line between the two never entirely clear. It’s an awkward movie that tries to find straight-faced cult horror while also paying homage to the utterly absurd chainsaw fight from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
There are moments dotted throughout Mandy that are destined to take pride of place in future Cage supercuts alongside the infamous bee sequence from The Wicker Man. However, the film is never quite in step with its leading man and, as a result, its tone never fits the inevitable audience reaction to Cage’s oddball turn. The movie, at least in its second half, plays out like a feature-length movie adaptation of a metal album cover. Your reaction to that statement probably dictates whether this is a film worth watching. For me, it was a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing but some funny faces.
(Dir: Panos Cosmatos, 121 mins, UK Release: October 12)
Are you excited to see Nicolas Cage go even wilder than usual in Mandy? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and make sure you keep coming back for the next few weeks for reviews of all of the best movies from the BFI London Film Festival 2018.