MIFF Review: Mandy

Co-Writer/Director Panos Cosmatos’ (Beyond the Black Rainbow) second feature, which pays homage to the 80s ‘Heavy Metal’ fusion of gnarly horror and fantasy, is a plodding and ultimately dull affair. There’s no doubt the film maker has an enormous visual flair but a 2 hour run time on a plot that has about 85 minutes of juice in it and a strangely obvious plot that doesn’t reach the sheer barminess it needs to hold Mandy back. If you want Nic Cage to go off tap, let him do it full tilt.

There is a real visual and aural edge to Mandy from the moment it starts. From the grainy, coarsely exposed anamorphic framing to Johann Johannson’s droning booming score, it drips with atmosphere. Broken into three chapters and utilising a slew of in-camera trickery, low budget practical effects and lighting techniques, Cosmatos has captured the feel of the 1977 originating Heavy Metal comic series with aplomb, it’s just a pity the plotting couldn’t match the visual ambition.

It’s 1983 in a remote forest of the United States where Red (Nicolas Cage) is a grizzled, keep-to-himself, lumberjack who lives a quite life with the ethereal and slightly off kilter beauty Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). Mandy waifs through her days in a spacial days whilst Red provides for her in their own, isolated cabin. When a religious cult called Children of the New Dawn, led by Jeremiah (Linus Roache), happen to drive past her wandering through the woods, she soon becomes an object of their wants. No sooner can you say ‘Man, that score is mixed so loud my ears want to bleed’ than Mandy is snatched up by them and their nefarious plot is reveaed.

With nods to Hellraiser’s Cenobites (on drugs), and the carnage candy of 1980s gore, Mandy switches into revenge mode for the last section of the film. And watching Nic Cage, who seems oddly restrained here with only a few moments of Cage Rage flourishes, fumble his way through each protracted death sequence is fine. The problem arises, however, in that it takes far too long to get to where it wants to go.

Every plot point is signposted miles before it comes at you. Dialogue is stilted and predictable (I was saying the lines before they spoke with an 80% accuracy rate), and the course of events is as generic as any of the hack n slash horror throwaways that land on iTunes every other week.

This has no need to be as long as it is, nor it comes with great disappointment that the characters are nowhere near as off kilter, or barmy, as they need to be to really make Mandy something. Instead, camera tricks, lighting, animation, booming scores and flashes of violence are peppered to hide it.

The film’s best moment comes in the form of an 80s ad for cheesy pasta but ultimately Mandy is so plodding, hulking from scene to scene, that you have a couple of giggles at its expense (Linus Roache’s Roache, Nic and the Vodka bottle) rather than with it.

A disappointing film with moments of greatness that are few and far between, Mandy needed to be let off the chain and let it go full barmy.

★★★

MANDY is screening at MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018