Review: Mandy (2018)

Written by Aaron Stewart-Ahn and Panos Cosmatos, and directed by Cosmatos, “Mandy” is a revenge movie drenched in cosmic horror. Starring in the lead is well documented cinematic mad man Nicolas Cage as Red Miller, a simple logger and heavy metal admirer living deep in the forested Shadow Mountains in 1983 with his fantasy artist lover Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). Together they lead a quiet, small, life in their cabin watching late night movies or burying their noses in pulpy fantasy paperbacks. Thus it isn’t long before a chaotic evil enters their lives, perhaps sensing the coming doom Red articulates this aloud one night mumbling, “Sometimes I wonder if we should leave this place..



Enter the Children of the new Dawn. Led by the fanatically deranged Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), the hippy zealots happen to pass Mandy on her walk to work one day and after Jeremiah eyes her, he decides that she’s his. He gives several monologues that are typical of a cult leader, because he is “special”– only Jeremiah can be the conduit between man and gods, who have told him that everything on the earthly plane belongs to him for his servitude. So, he sends out a few followers to summon demons, or inter-dimensional cenobites (or whatever you’d like to call them), riding black motorcycles, adorned in costumes with leather spikes, and leaking some disgusting fluid. After the metal bikers from another dimension arrive, Jeremiah and his zealots overpower Red and Mandy in a home invasion. Jeremiah’s followers heavily drug Mandy and bring her to Jeremiah where upon hearing his musings and master plan, she denies him with cackling laughter. A few scenes later after some intense motivation building for Red, he’s finally given the reigns of the story and we follow him on his journey of vengeance into madness.


The rest of the film is fairly straightforward from this point on, with things getting progressively stranger the closer Red gets to exacting his revenge on Jeremiah. So this film, I have to say, probably has the most unique vision I’ve seen all year (Admittedly I haven’t seen some summer flicks like “Sorry to Bother you” and “Black Klansman” yet). This is the first film I’ve seen from Panos Cosmatos, but his directorial style reminded me most of a Heavy Metal and Fantasy spin on David Lynch’s slow moving and painterly methodology. This film is far more art-house than the marketing indicates, and thus those seeking an action filled thriller could be greatly disappointed. This is a film that demands your patience, and it isn’t necessarily going to hold your hand through the bog of heavy metal insanity. Those willing to grant the film a watch will get some of the ridiculously violent tone that the trailers and marketing hinted at, just at a much slower pace, and far less of it than may be expected. This is a slow, brooding, film that doesn’t sacrifice vision for marketability- which is admirable in today’s world of cinema.


I think the two most salient aspects of the film are the color palette and the score, or at least those are the two most overwhelming senses. After all, what is film but light and sound? The film is awash in bellowing reds, deep shimmering blues, and flashes of brilliant greens. The score itself is a major aspect of the mood of the film. The near constant grumble of heavy chords echo Red’s boiling rage and primal instincts as his quest for vengeance evolves throughout the story. This film is as close as you could get to walking into a Heavy Metal album cover art and milling around the disparate wastelands and otherworldly landscapes. There may be hundreds of revenge flicks out there, but I assure you- there are none quite like “Mandy”.


Final Score: There’s only 1 Cheddar Goblin!


Old School Review: “I live in Fear” (1955)

Caution: There will be spoilers..

Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, “I Live in Fear” is the legendary filmmaker’s most direct attempt at fictionalizing the very real social anxieties sweeping Japan post World War Two. The film opens on an unfolding case being discussed in family court. Kiichi Nakajima (Toshiro Mifune) is a successful, elder, Japanese industrialist that has been taken to court by his family for the unreasonable use of his funds to secure land in Brazil, the only place on earth Mr. Nakajima believes to be safe from Nuclear Annihilation. He wishes to purchase a farm in the South American country and to bring his family with him- to which the whole family objects. Granted, most of the family doesn’t want to uproot their entire lives just to assuage the fears of Kiichi, but as the film progresses we get the impression that the family would have gone on without acknowledging the man’s paranoia and mental health IF he hadn’t begun to use his wealth, their inheritance, to fund several projects that he thought would protect his loved ones from an irradiated doom.


After much deliberation the family court approves the family’s petition, that Mr. Nakajima’s actions and intentions deem him mentally unfit. Naturally he appeals the notion and as the court machinations move forward Mr. Nakajima only becomes more frenzied with each passing hour. As he unravels, he fails to understand why everyone around him can be so calm when the very fact that the H bomb exists at all should concern every living soul with grave danger. One of the more powerful scenes in the film, in my opinion, happens during a visit to one of his mistresses (the film doesn’t shy away from the fact that our lead isn’t perfect) as he mistakes lightning and thunder to be another bomb dropping- he dives for his youngest son and startles him awake, at which point the mistress snatches her child up and looks at Kiichi with fearful eyes. Eventually he is so distraught by a son-in-law’s suggestion that even Brazil wouldn’t be safe from the fallout of nuclear war, that Kiichi takes drastic measures and sets the family foundry ablaze. The foundry was the source of the family’s wealth- which Kiichi eventually only saw as a deterrent to moving to safety.


Throughout the film Kurosawa wisely placed Takashi Shimura as the moral center, and therefore soul of the film, in Dr. Harada. In the role as a dentist that’s been accepted by the local community to be on the board of the family court, Dr. Harada is often the one individual to question the group’s assumptions and point out when Mr. Nakajima makes logical points of contention. After Shimura’s spellbinding performance in Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” in 1952, it was a cinematic pleasure seeing two of Kurosawa’s most lauded performers onscreen together. Granted, I’m watching Kurosawa’s films out of order, so this may not be as momentous as it felt to me at the time. The two actors play off of each other brilliantly, with Shimura’s reserved and quiet performance set against the rigidity and barely contained anger of Mifune’s Kiichi- it’s an excellent pairing of personalities.


Kurosawa presents an argument in the film, which party is the sane one? Mr. Nakajima, who’s trying to save lives and avoid nuclear disintegration? Or the World around him that neglects his worries as trivial and misguided. Sirens wail in the background throughout the film and most of the characters have a sort of laissez-faire attitude about the whole idea of nuclear annihilation. Several even acknowledge that while Mr. Nakajima had gone too far- they couldn’t accurately articulate why he should be deemed mentally incompetent. The film’s final scene encapsulates this dichotomy visually with Mr. Nakajima institutionalized in a psychiatric ward. Dr. Harada leaves the institution, having just witnessed a man broken by paranoia, just as Nakajima’s daughter enters and both are anchored in a mourning and uneasiness as they each enter a world that harbors curious intent.


In reading what others have said about this film I came across the perfect summary of where the film’s head-space lives. In an article from Slate in 2008, by Fred Kaplan, he extrapolates that if someone were to make a similar film on the American psyche post 9/11 “[they] might cover and somehow dramatize: the line between obsession and obliviousness, between whimpering terror and blithe denial; the undeterminable toll on our ‘unconscious minds’ from embracing either course; and the question of whether it’s possible to lead a fully conscious, sane life on some road in between“. All of which is crafted here exquisitely by Akira Kurosawa and his crew. This tragedy is worth a watch, if only to recognize how the outcomes of war can affect a society and it’s people.


Final Score: Two minutes, ’til midnight