As I sat down to watch Mandy I wondered when the last time there’s been a Nicolas Cage film shown on the big screen. So much of his recent output had been direct to streaming sites and, mostly dreadful, that it never even made the silver screen. That said, I’m sure there are plenty of you who consider much of his work awful even when he was in his golden period.
The Filmhouse, in its wisdom, decided to screen this in their smallest screen with only one performance on opening night. Coupled with the the fact that nowhere else in Edinburgh was showing it and predominantly positive reviews the screening was a sell out. Lesson learned: never bet against Cage.
My only hesitation was knowing that it was by Panos Cosmatos who directed the wondrously awful Beyond The Black Rainbow. Still the promise of an unhinged Cage freak-out was too tempting and in that we were all rewarded. That’s not to say the opening isn’t indulgently pretentious and a little empty – it is – but once we get to where we need to the film comes alive. The slow start had the more traditional cinema goers in the audience shuffling impatiently and a couple left thirty minutes in. For the rest of us that stuck with it we were satisfactorily rewarded.
Red (Nicolas Cage) lives with his partner Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). He works with a chainsaw so from the start we know we’re in a for a treat while Mandy works at a store and paints 70s and 80s fantasy art that mimic the covers of the type of books she likes to read. As the film goes on we realise that type of art has also influenced the film itself. Maybe we’re even in one of those fantasy books right now?
Mandy is a relatively straightforward revenge film that is set apart from countless similar films partly through it’s director’s vision and style and partly by casting Nicolas Cage and not being clear enough with him on if the film is a comedy or not. Directors intent or not, let me be clear: the film is a comedy. Following Cage and Mandy being terrorised by a hippie cult and a demonic biker gang (who are an almost copyright-infringing Cenobites from Hellraiser) the film confirms its tone and it’s at that exact breaking point when things light up. Once Red is off the lease the film hits all the notes you need it to – Bill Duke from Predator turns up and adds dialogue that have the entire audience in hysterics “these bullets will go through bone like a fat kid through cake”. An Oscar for Best Screenplay is surely on the cards.
From there the film becomes exactly what you thought it would be. A grindhouse murder-fest with chainsaws, decapitations, lots of stabby and choppy bits and a lovely head crushing where an eye pops out. Cage chews the scenery wonderfully, but for me, the style got in the way. For my tastes the violence wasn’t excessive enough – I was hoping for Sian Sono or even Kill Bill silliness but (bar the eye popping) it was mostly underwhelming. What does save it is the fantasy animations that act as segues throughout as we spiral into the more nightmarish moments. It hints that there is something deeper to the film than there actually is. In the end, once you scrape past the style, you’re left with a fun but hollow movie.
The Filmhouse’s programme is available here.