Mandy — Review

Mandy, from director/co-writer Panos Cosmatos and co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn, is a remarkably clear-eyed look at depravity in a genre that often indulges in vapid excess. The first half, one which emphasizes and develops slow tension, is the more interesting part since it’s such an oddly humanistic depiction of a Manson-like cult with enough supernatural flourishes to give it an extra gut punch of terror. It also shows a rather enjoyable and curious couple (played by Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough) whose embrace of domesticity feels grounded instead of stapled. In addition, Mandy’s ironic interest in dark fantasy feels intriguing and not annoying — hinting at the industry where an embrace of that artistic sentiment is the foundation for so much opportunity. One where there can be surprising detachment between our common love, interest & communal bonds through said culture and the tangible manifestation of its horrors.

The second half owes more to Evil Dead with its fun embrace of the genre, more of a cathartic release than a gripping action/horror/thriller, though it’s punctuated by delightfully odd moments & occasional empathetic glimpses at typically glorified debauchery. The first half’s emotional pull vanishes more than it should during the second half (apart from a deservedly iconic final scene) and we start to feel the characters’ exhaustion without enough emotional or thematic depth to justify it.

That said, Nicolas Cage who gives one of his best performances in years — a surprisingly gargantuan task that shows how much he can convey with a simple expression. How his often-mocked overacting enables him to reveal unique humility that catches us by surprise — he brings us into the darkness and keeps us there. In addition the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s (Sicario, Arrival) original score (one of his last) is so tense, the way he intertwines his typically unnerving beats with the classic sounds of the 80’s. It’s enigmatic yet not evasive in a way more subversive film scores should be. In a just world his score would be nominated for the Oscar.

Thus it’s weird to say that I enjoyed Mandy but didn’t love it. It’s a film with so many extremes that simply saying I liked it feels disingenuous. It’s Evil-Dead-esque second half doesn’t grip you in the way it’s genuinely haunting first half does. Yet it’s ultimately it’s worth checking out not just because of Cage and Jóhannsson’s stellar work (as well as that of their fellow cast and crew) but it earnestly tries to bring humanism to a genre where that asset is typically undervalued. That attempt is worth the experience alone.