“Funny how there’s so much blood abounding in such a lifeless movie” – Dara Higgins on Nicolas Cage revenge flick, Mandy
There’s no redemption for Nick Cage. The idea that he makes dross movies studded with the occasional, unintentional classic is a misnomer. He just makes duff movies. His milieu consists entirely of gurning and shouting, adding the gravitas of niche to whatever celluloid he’s numbly loping across. The accidental Oscar win has done him no favours. Nick appears to prefer sparkling dully in bad movies than anything else, like a zircon dropped in a cowpat. And yet we seem to need him, sucked towards his empty maw as if across the lip of an all obliterating black hole. He owns our affection, this hapless, affable hack who once commanded 20 million quid a movie, handed over in hessian sacks belching notes, SWAG stencilled on the side.
His latest outing is in Panos Cosmatos’s auteured, but stock, revenge caper, Mandy. Set in ad 1983, Mandy starts with the swell of King Crimson’s Starless playing over an endless forest of verdant trees. Red (Cage) fells some timber, chucks a lit cigarette into the foliage, gets on a helicopter at the end of his shift. The helicopter points to Red’s past as he gazes out the door just like back in ‘Nam. He refuses a beer, which augurs something else, something dark and hidden. The intense Cave gurn cements an inner turmoil of some kind. What that might be is utterly irrelevant. It’s not a movie where motivation or character are particularly important. On the plus side, there won’t be a “universe” and a few “backstory” movies tacked on as an addendum.
Red returns to his isolated gaff in near Crystal Lake wherein the missus, the eponymous Mandy, scrawls phantasmagorical paintings, reads sci-fi novels and listens to spandex metal. Theirs is a life predicated on sleepy musings about not much and a kind of savant idiocy. Andrea Riseborough’s gaping ocularity is all her character has to offer, which seems an egregious overlooking of her obvious talent.
The idyll of this simple life is upturned by a local hippy cult and their LSD soaked, deviant members. After the leader, Sand, takes a liking to Mandy, he demands to have her. And apparently, he gets what he wants. His band of drugged loopers barge into Red and Mandy’s world, and through acts of unspeakable folk-music and violence, awake Red’s mega-gurn. Watch out for that. But do, by all means, leave Red alive. How could that go wrong, you mad hippy pricks?
The colours are saturated and VHS fuzzy, lo-fi grainy, concocted to look and feel and sound like a video nasty from the eighties, and to play out like one, with gratuitous violence and abundant gore, the blood throbbing on screen to the skull vibrating synth crush of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s final film score, which, while great in parts, seems to be intensely loud, aggressively emoting as if the music itself is a character. Easily the most vivid of the lot.
When Cage rouses himself and embarks on his mission of revenge, he stops off forge his own elaborate silver axe and don his “favourite shirt” in a come and get me plea to cosplayers everywhere. You can see the Funko bobble head already. It starts the film’s third act and descent into tacky, predictable murder-porn that offers nothing by way of drama or interest or anything other than an occasional Cage-gurn for comic effect. The man can gurn, let’s be fair.
Linus Roache’s performance as cult leader Jeramiah Sand is no trifle, but the character is two dimensional, which may even over-state the dimensions evident. Roache’s fearless physicality is a good foil to Cage’s soporific grimacing, but the bland exhortations to god or whomever are dull and hackneyed. The violent demise of several whoever-the-fucks doesn’t really sate anyone’s need for closure and the sinister, nail clad biker gang are entirely incongruous. Cage is a claret covered bowling ball knocking pins left and right with all the intricate nuance you’d expect from a projectile chucked down an alley.
Mandy is a lysergic saturated, syrupy-slow mess, torpid and over-stylised, too knowing, too self aware, too fucking full of itself. The movie’s best bit is the pastiche of an 80s Macaroni ad on Red’s tv (directed by Chris Kelly.). One suspects, however, that this was entirely the point. Funny how there’s so much blood abounding in such a lifeless movie.