Texto de Theo Howe
How many of us have ever used the word ‘phantasmagoric’ in a sentence? It almost sounds made up, straight out of a Roald Dahl book. And yet, when we hear it in the description for something, the meaning seems so obvious and natural that it’s fairly easy to parse. This is why you won’t be finding a description of Mandy, the new film from the visually inventive Panos Cosmatos, starring Nicolas Cage, without the usage of the word. It’s the only way to make sense of the whole thing, to view the whole thing as a hallucination.
Mandy is the follow-up to Cosmatos’ 2010 debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow, a noble failure of a science fiction film that nonetheless showed huge promise; primarily in the visuals and the creeping atmosphere that is created through a haunting synth score and frankly bizarre performances from all of the actors. It’s been 8 years since then, so what has Cosmatos been doing all this time?
Well, I suppose there wasn’t that much of a need to update himself. As mentioned earlier, his style is distinct after just one film, a remarkable feat, to be sure. The story of Mandy, as well, isn’t all that complicated, and nor was Beyond the Black Rainbow’s. What Cosmatos has undoubtedly improved upon, though, is trimming the fat, and presenting a narrative that feels direct and punchy, without losing any of the distinct aesthetic that he is cultivating for himself.
Mandy is a film of turning points; the point at which you realise that the plot is going to be told through a drug induced haze, the point where it goes from folk horror to a classic revenge flick, and the point when you clock that Nicolas Cage is one of the most remarkable actors currently working. Because it hinges on this moments, the plot feels more like it moves in phases than being a continuous narrative mechanism.
This, of course, has both its upsides and downsides; an extended scene when Andrea Riseborough’s title character is kidnapped by Linus Roache’s unsettling cult leader Jeremiah Sand that goes on for about half an hour of hallucinatory brilliance; bringing the tension to a head on several different occasions before an absolute, ultimate release. However, the phase that follows this is clearly waiting for the cathartic release of the denouement. Without much of a place to go of its own. It’s disappointing to have a part of a film feel as if its only purpose is to bridge two parts of a story that could not be connected in an interesting manner, and the fact that one can easily understand the last half an hour without watching the half hour that came before it is testament to this; when you see Cage roaring as he covers himself in more and more blood, one is beyond questioning exactly how we got to this point, as it’s too exciting to truly care.
We can credit Cosmatos with a lot of this excitement, this strange atmosphere that he builds. The pine forests of the first half feel different, but just as interesting as the numerous mad rabbit holes which are explored by Cage’s Red in the second half. It’s heartening to see that he is the same unique figure who burst onto our screens 8 years ago. However, what he has this time that he didn’t have in his debut film is some utterly screen stealing performances that for some will definitely rank among the best of the year.
I’ll start by more directly dealing with the man who I’ve already mentioned at every turn: Nicolas Cage. One of the strangest, most polarising actors currently working. He’s been in so many awful films that one forgets that he’s won an Oscar, and done a number of brilliant performances beyond that. In Mandy his Red is stoic, dependable, but clearly volatile; and boy does that ever come to a head. In the more manic sections one is reminded of his crazed performance in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans and, if one wants to trace the lineage back even further, the mad brilliance of Klaus Kinski in Aguirre: The Wrath of God. Not only is Red a fantastically compelling performance from Cage, but I don’t remember the last time I saw an actor so clearly lost in the excitement of making a film. His impact on the second half of Mandy really can’t be understated, and it’s worth watching for the final half an hour alone.
It feels unfair to mention Cage and not mention Roache and Riseborough, who are almost the only characters to interact in the films unsettling, somewhat adrift opening half. It would seem as if Roache has to do all the heavy lifting, but to not credit Riseborough for her cold, open demeanour during her extended meeting with the cult leader as he runs his mouth is part of what allows Roache to be such a mesmerising figure. It’s a film with three quite fantastic performances in it, though the one you will remember coming out of it is undoubtedly Cage.
So is this Cage’s film? Time will tell whether we remember Mandy as a one-man dominated gut punch, or a continuation of Cosmatos’ mission statement: to beguile, bewitch, and bamboozle. Mandy is a simple film, but much like Cosmatos’ debut, it tries to present itself as anything but. This is partially to its detriment, honestly, as it’s easy to clock out of certain parts of it despite the fact that it’s no more complex than any other revenge plot.
For such a cathartic, violent film, it’s a very slow burner. I mean this in the sense that what you think about Mandy immediately after finishing will be different to what you think about it 3 days later. That’s most certainly been the case for me, and what I initially passed off as a fun film that is doomed to cult status might actually be remembered as something very special a few years down the line.