Nicolas Cage on the set of Mandy.

Courtesy of SpectreVision

Nicolas Cage on the set of Mandy.

September 23, 2018

Jesus Freaks: Mandy Is a Bloody Good Time

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Ruby: Man, that was wild. It’s going to be hard to get that image of the demon with a knife where his dick is supposed to be out of my head. What do you think the movie is about, though? To me it seems like there’s not much depth to it, since the revenge story has been told too many times.

Varun: I love revenge films. I don’t think they get old. It’s one of those staples of mythology that has worked well for centuries. And I agree, there’s not a lot of depth. But the gut, visceral urge of bloodlust isn’t a very deep one. It’s an animal instinct. And to explore that demands a top-down, shallow approach.

Mandy is a revenge movie about the depths of corruption the body and mind can sink to. It is Orpheus cutting a bloody war path into hell but returning without Eurydice or his own sanity. There is no catharsis, only suffering.

R: Exactly —  there’s no catharsis! I think that might be why I feel so lost and confused after walking out of the theatre. I get no resolution whatsoever, which is frustrating. That being said, it could be the filmmaker’s intention to make us feel that way, just like all the gloomy ’70s Hollywood films, you know.

V: Nick Cage gives a fearsome performance, holding back neither rage nor mercy. His portrayal of madness and fury is inspired, dragging us into the pit behind him. It’s a tragedy that most audiences and critics will simplistically read this as another installment in Cage’s “overly exaggerated” career. Actually, Cage’s performance seems like a response to that predictable sentiment. How better to silence your critics than by not only embracing but also exceeding their harshest criticisms? Bloodlust is all or nothing.

I thought Cage is really great at what he does in Mandy. I don’t think anyone could have become a God of Revenge like he did. But were there things about his performance that seemed off to you? His interaction with the weapons master feels very forced, for example.

R: Oh that scene in the camper when he curses like a bitter middle-aged man? It did feel awkward and people were laughing.

V: Yeah. Maybe the awkwardness of that scene was a consequence of how far Red had already fallen from humanity. Do you think that director Panos Cosmatos relies too heavily on Cage?

R: I guess it’s supposed to be a one-man show, but the casting is stellar and each character has at least one highlight moment of their own, which I appreciate. For example, the scene where Jeremiah Sands (Linus Roache) tries to convince Mandy that he’s the chosen one, and we were staring at his face for five minutes on the big screen — you can see his eyebrows raising, the side of his lips slightly twitching, and those crazy, crazy eyes… just overwhelmingly powerful.

And where did they even find Andrea Riseborough? She might be not traditionally attractive at first sight, but a woman who can prompt such a bloody journey can’t just be hot. Riseborough portrays the ethereal beauty of the character: she’s vulnerable yet defiant.

Do you think the film is too long though? I definitely appreciate Cosmatos’ feverish, hypnotizing vision, but it doesn’t sustain the narrative the entire time. The fight sequences all seem pretty similar, especially towards the end.

V: Yes, bloodlust can only be sustained for so long. At over two hours, the film gets sluggish in its final sequences just because it’s impossible to maintain the kind of intensity that opens the third act. As a side note, why did movies stop having intermissions? I could have used one in between there to take stock of what had happened and prepare myself for what was to come. I get that it interrupts the drama, but the alternative is the risk of exhausting your viewers and weakening the overall effect.

The fight choreography is strong but has its shortcomings. Some are unsatisfyingly short and others are similar in cadence. With a couple of exceptions, all the fights are one-on-one, close-quarters combat scenes that rely on similar framing and blocking. When Uma Thurman cuts down eighty eight Yakuza one after the other in Kill Bill, it builds up to something huge. But when Cage slaughters demon bikers, it seems to only build up to the next demon biker. This renders the final reckoning with the enemy somewhat anticlimactic, negating the sense of doom established by the mise-en-scene and soundtrack.

R: Speaking of the soundtrack — Johann Johannsson is a genius.

V: He is! The synth-metal soundtrack is a gruesome and hypnotizing portal into the acid-fueled massacre that is Mandy. Always building, it weaves layer upon layer of eldritch terror and dark paranoia — the kind that is only encountered on the deepest mountain roads at night, walled in by black woods and a moonless sky with only the weak glow of your headlights to anchor you to the waking world. On tracks like “Memories,” Johannsson briefly brings us back to humanity with tenderness — before swiftly casting us back into the void.

The costume design on Mandy is brilliant too. Heavy metal band shirts, satanic robes and spiked armor all go a long way in establishing a sense of place and moment. “That was my favorite shirt!” shouts Red as he prepares to dole out bloody revenge. And the blood: it was everywhere.

R: Yes! The production design is absolutely beautiful. The color palettes are so distinct and they tell the story without words. I love the cabin Red and Mandy live in. While the dimly lit, warm-colored interior signifies peace and intimacy, the darkness seen through the window suggests lurking danger. And the bathroom where Cage delivers that post-trauma sequence? The wallpaper is claustrophobic and almost reminiscent of The Shining, which brings back ’80s nostalgia.

V: That bathroom scene is amazing. It’s great that you mentioned The Shining since that scene reminds me of Kubrick’s fascination with bathrooms. He loved them because it’s there that we’re at our most vulnerable and childlike; his goal was always to bring us back to that childlike state.

R: What about the title cards? They are quite unnecessary and took me out of the narrative for a second.

V: I love title cards in general! They introduce each act and give a warning of what’s to come. We weren’t ready for Mandy when we walked into the theater, and the titles go some way in building up the aesthetic of the pulp sci-fi novel.

What did you think of the animation sequences that come in unexpectedly here and there? I love them, mostly because I’m a sucker for animation. They feel like a dream within a dream. Though I wasn’t a huge fan of the art style.

R: Similar to my reaction about the title cards, I think the animation is out of place and the visual style isn’t particularly compatible with the rest of the movie.

V: Do you think a film like Mandy can have mass appeal? I feel like it’ll prove to be very divisive. I think we’ll see a lot of “love it or hate it” sentiment like we saw with mother! last year and will see with Suspiria later this year.

R: Sounds like an apt comparison. I’m excited to talk about it with people!

V: I wonder if hyper-stylized, hyper-violent films such as the works of Nicolas Winding Refn, Green Room and Mandy are part of a larger trend in some new exploitation film movement.

R: That’s an interesting observation, but I hesitate to call it a “movement.” Violence as a spectacle isn’t something recent, and that’s how slasher films got their appeal. However, I think Hollywood should be aware that in today’s world the narrative of the abducted and assaulted woman is no longer acceptable. With that said, I believe that Mandy’s use of the trope isn’t just another product of the (sadistic) male gaze but an exploration, even subversion, of the genre.

V: That’s a good message to end on.

R: Yes. Please go see Mandy, and if you can’t take blood (like Varun), grab a friend!

Ruby Que is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at rque@cornellsun.com. Varun Belur is a senior in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at vb239@cornell.edu.