Mandy review - a critic's delight that won't translate well to a general audience
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Verdict: a film to study rather than enjoy.
In simple terms, Mandy is a revenge story; when Red (Nicolas Cage) loses his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) to a sadistic cult, he sets out to murder the culprits. The result is a disorientating array of bright colours, unnatural sounds, and disturbing images.
Surrealism has never been very popular in Hollywood; it uses strange, phantasmagorical sequences often influenced by Freud’s psychoanalysis of dreams. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t appeal to too many people. The images are disconcerting and don’t make much sense.
With his second film Mandy, Panos Cosmatos seems to be attempting to bring surrealism back to mainstream. It is being hailed as an original film the likes of which no one has seen before, but surrealist film emerged way back in the 1920s with auteurs such as Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. However, most of these films were either silent or in French, so aren’t well known nowadays.
The most recent ‘mainstream’ surrealist director is David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and the TV show Twin Peaks). Mandy has some clear influences from Lynch, so if you’re familiar with his work you will likely enjoy this film too. The fight scenes are also reminiscent of Tarantino’s style, with melodramatic deaths and sporadic intertitles.
Nicolas Cage has been in some questionable movies over his career, and his facial expressions have been the subject of many memes. Thus, it makes sense for him to be in another weird film such as Mandy, where his eccentricity actually works. The murder scenes become amusing with his wide eyes and sadistic smile that are too ridiculous to be scary.
Cosmatos has a conspicuous obsession with the colour red; even the main character is named after it. Many scenes are tinted in red and blue, as if you’re watching an old 3D movie without glasses. It’s a clear reference to sin, especially sex and death. There’s also some subtle use of CGI with Mandy’s pupils, making them seem alien, which in one scene is cross-faded into the cultist’s face as if they are becoming one; this is a direct reference to legendary director Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona.Surrealism can be interpreted into infinite analyses which is why scholars love it; every shot can be a political or religious allegory or a metaphor for sexual repression. More likely, though, is that it has no meaning at all.
If you’re interested in surrealism or film technique, then Mandy is worth seeing. If you just want a fun Hollywood movie, this is definitely not it. Mandy is one of those films with an exclusive interest; it will be more appreciated by critics than a general audience.
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