Monday, 27 August 2018

NZIFF 2018 Diary: Mandy

Welcome to my rambling thoughts on the NZIFF 2018, starting with the most Nicholas Cage movie ever made!

When his lover Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) is murdered by an evil cult and a hellish gang of bikers, Red (Nicholas Cage) goes on a fiery rampage of vengeance.

To paraphrase How Did This Get Made?, this is the most un-caged Nicholas Cage movie I have seen in years.

It is also a cinematic tribute to Dario Argento and the best Ronnie James Dio video Ronnie James Dio never made.

The second film from Panos Cosmatos (son of genre filmmaker George Pan Cosmatos), this movie is extremely simple in terms of story: a loved one is killed and an enraged man hunts the killers down and kills them.

Andrea Riseborough as Mandy
The film is set in 1983 and there is an audio snippet of a Ronald Reagan address about America's spiritual renewal. The film does feel like it is making a vague point about the end of the 60s, with the story's hippies have becoming self-obsessed spiritualists who use their power to serve themselves.

Trying to work out what to label this movie is pointless. Mandy is set in a cinematic world where bikers take bad drugs and turn into blood-drinking psychos who can be summoned by a rock flute. 

The movie's simplicity is a major boon, but there are points where scenes drag on far longer than they need to (Linus Roache gets one monologue too many). However those moments are balanced by the movie's single-minded need to be the most mythically metal tale of vengeance imaginable. 

Scenes of Cage forging and making his fearsome blade ala Conan the Barbarian; facing off against the biker gang; or engaging in a gnarly chainsaw duel with a burly cultist feel like a fever dream of seventies and eighties pop culture. This is a berserk genre exercise, awash my vivid colour, hyper-real sound design, simple exposures and animated visions.

Despite the energy and viscera of the movie's key sequences, Mandy comes across as rather mournful and melancholic about the past - all the characters feel like they are attempting to deal with unstated past trauma - Red and Mandy have found solace in each other, while the film's villain (Linus Roache) has insulated himself with sycophants and a penchant for the black arts.

Roache is an interesting choice for the antagonist. At first he seemed miscast. He has an everyman quality that feels a bit at odds with both the character he is playing and the overheated diegesis that character exists in.

About midway through, it becomes clear that he is a pathetic loser with no real control over what he is doing. Like our heroes, there is a sense that his time has passed. While the movie feels like a fantasy, there is a sense of loss and age that - weirdly - grounds the movie.

Strange and haunting, Mandy contains many of the tropes of exploitation cinema of one era, but also feels like an oblique commentary about the end of a preceding one. Simple yet complex, over-stylised  yet incredibly functional, histrionic yet subdued, Mandy is as surprising and hard to categorise as its leading man's performance choices.

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