Sunday, 28 October 2018


Thulsa Bloom

2018 USA/Belgium/UK 

Directed by Panos Cosmatos
UK cinema release print.

I’ve been trying to get to see this one for a little while now. Unfortunately, because of it’s near simultaneous release on streaming and DVD (although not in the proper Blu Ray format it needs to be seen on in the UK... I'll have to import that from the US - since publishing this I've found out that there are actually two UK Blu Ray editions of this, both exclusive to HMV), the very limited cinematic release has made this almost impossible for me. Then I finally managed to find one screening which was on at an appropriate time for normal, working people to actually be able to go and see this thing, at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. Like almost all the screenings it sold out fast due to a mix of good word of mouth and limited showings but at least I finally got to secure a ticket. The cinema was packed and this was kind of good because this film is a very intense ride and it seemed almost like a community spirit took over in the auditorium as this near magical motion picture started to stream deliriously into our collective eyeballs.

Mandy is both... not the film I’d expected it to be but everything I would have hoped it could be if this kind of film-making was more common. The dream-like quality of the visuals and the way the film kind of slowly ebbs and flows on a singular course at a very deliberate pace is not something I think a lot of director’s would have held their nerve with (I guess I’m going to have to catch up with Cosmatos’ other movie at some point).

At its simplest level... which is pretty much the only level you can really take it, I think... the film is an old school revenge movie. Mandy Bloom, played almost enigmatically by Andrea Riseborough, lives in a cabin with her lumberjack boyfriend Red Miller, played by Nicolas Cage... until fate intervenes in the form of cult leader Jeremiah Sand, played by Linus Roach. Well, I say cult leader but there is some evidence to show that he might be the devil or some other major demon although, at one point in the film, his hold over others weakens and whatever power he may have had deserts him.

He and his psychotic group of followers also have the use of a group of biker ‘heavies’, for want of a better term and there are many ways to interpret these bizarre creatures. With their superhuman strength and impenetrable visage there’s a lot to suggest that they are either demonic entities or, possibly, even aliens. Or are they just totally drugged up humans who think they are either demons or aliens? I don’t know and, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter as they are just another obstacle in the path of Red Miller as he seeks revenge for the brutal murder of his girlfriend... who was coveted by Jeremiah but who dared to laugh at him.

Now Nicolas Cage is an interesting actor but I do find him an acquired taste and haven’t seen a great deal of his movies. That being said, I was blown away by him back in 1990 when he played Sailor Ripley in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart. Alas, it’s been a long time since I was able to watch that film again because subsequent DVD and Blu Ray releases to date have been heavily censored... I wish someone would release this properly at some point. He’s great in Mandy too, though and, although he doesn’t say a whole lot, you get the feeling that Red is completely focused by his grief and hate.

Now talking of David Lynch... if I was asked to sum up the atmosphere of this movie by comparing it to other things, I’d be hard pressed. Like Argento’s Suspiria (reviewed here) it’s very much a movie which works completely on its own terms and is not like much else you’ve seen at the cinema, in terms of style and feel at least. So my best summation of the feel of the movie would be this... imagine if Dario Argento and David Lynch had met in the early 1970s and decided to make a film together and then, furthermore, gave all the audience members some LSD before they went in to the cinemas... that’s what I would imagine Mandy feels like in words. The colours, the intensity, the animated cartoons of a naked Mandy giving Red cryptic clues as to the location of the cult from beyond the grave... it’s all very overwhelming and, indeed, the slow pacing of the film is almost a necessity to give your head a chance to catch up to what you’re seeing and hearing on screen.

Also, I don’t know if anyone else saw this possible connection but it almost feels like our imagined versions of Lynch and Argento were trying to do a modern reboot of the John Milius version of Conan The Barbarian. I can see Jeremia as a stand in for Thulsa Doom and the simple revenge arc as almost an homage to that 1982 classic (indeed, Mandy is even set in the 1980s and also includes an oblique reference to the animated Heavy Metal movie). So yeah, this film felt very much, to me anyway, like Eraserhead meets Suspiria meets Conan the Barbarian by way of the artistic sensibilities of Panos Cosmatos, so... yeah, that works for me.

The score is fantastic too. This is one of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s last movie scores before his accidental death earlier in the year and it’s another absolutely brilliant piece. It’s quite similar in tone to his amazing scores for Sicario (reviewed here) and Arrival (reviewed here) and I can’t think of anything else that could hold the film together in the way that this intense music, mixed right into the foreground of the film, could. It elevates the ‘in your face’ nature of the visuals and really helps glue the imagery together without letting up. It keeps you in the headspace required to appreciate Mandy as the work of art it is because, it has to be said, there are a couple of places where it does threaten to drift over into ‘camp’ territory and there are plenty of laughs midst the blood and gore to be found here. That’s another reason why this is a great communal experience because the audience reaction was terrific... a girl in a group of people sitting to my left held her hands over her face when a giant, fiery “bat’leth” of an axe is thrown into a man’s head and then found herself laughing at something one of the characters said not five minutes after this scene. And, it has to be said, everyone had a little chuckle at Nicolas Cage’s grin in a shot near the end of the movie. This is another film which people are going to remember this actor for in future generations, I think.

One scene where Miller is trying to process what has just happened to his girlfriend, could have gone either way. It’s a protracted scene of him alternately drowning down a bottle of Southern Comfort (I think that’s what the bottle was) and screaming emotionally in his y-fronts and, it very nearly got a lot of unintentional laughs, I suspect. However, let me say just this about that scene... it’s possibly the closest contemporary equivalent I’ve seen to the Isabelle Adjani ‘grocery in the subway’ breakdown sequence in Zulawski’s Possession (which I reviewed here)... so I think a certain cross section of the audience would have appreciated this. It’s a raw moment for Cage and, luckily, it does just come out as the right side of credible in a film that is being called by a lot of reviewers... ‘totally bonkers’ and, who am I to disagree with them. As long as they mean bonkers in a good way then I have no fight with that.

Mandy is a hallucinatory, intense, vibrant, fun and somewhat trippy pill to swallow. It’s 100% a modern exploitation movie but one which doesn’t skimp on a lot of the implications of that term and celebrates itself in a way that lets the audience join in with it. A really great little flame of a movie and one which I’m sure an insane bunch of cinephiles will be happy to keep burning for a number of years. Don’t miss out on this one... especially if you can see it on a big screen with a full house... a gem of an experience.

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