Mandy: Revenge served with a retro vibe

Nicolas Cage goes on a journey of vengeance in Mandy, a horror film which oozes style.
Nicolas Cage goes on a journey of vengeance in Mandy, a horror film which oozes style.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION



121 minutes/Now showing/4 stars

The story: In the Pacific North-west in 1983, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) live happily in a forest cabin. Trouble happens when a cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and the couple cross paths, causing Red to embark on a bloody journey of vengeance.

Revenge sagas are a dime a dozen. But what sets the good ones apart from the bad is not the level of sadism in the crime that provokes the revenge, the number of henchmen decapitated or the special set of skills possessed by the one-man army out for quick justice.

A lot of mediocre movies will try to convince you otherwise, including Peppermint, which stars Jennifer Garner as the wronged party and which opened last week.

What really separates the good from the bad is style. Mandy oozes it, in a way that makes it nearly impossible not to drink in every colour-saturated frame.

This is a static movie in most senses of the word.

Except for a couple of spaced-out monologues from cult leader Sand (Roache), dialogue is kept to a minimum and the same goes for the plot and physical movement.

Several of the most arresting scenes are composed in one still shot, framed like a poster of a science fiction-fantasy comic book from the 1980s.

That retro vibe is reinforced by the swirling analog synthesizer score from Oscar-nominated Johann Johannsson, a soundtrack maestro (Sicario, 2015; Arrival, 2016) who died earlier this year.

Director and co-writer Panos Cosmatos has a visual imagination that takes note of heavy metal album covers and the cosmic art of 19th-century poet and painter William Blake.

All film-makers build movies around images and moments they love, but Cosmatos is a rare one whose love of excess is tempered by a sly sense of self-deprecating humour.

For starters, there is Cage's near-hysterical acting, his unfeasibly large weapons of war and the various gory deaths.

And we have not even mentioned the motorcycle-riding demons from hell.

The whole hallucinatory affair teeters on the edge of ridiculousness, or at least cheesiness. But after drifting into the orbit of Saturn, Cosmatos always comes back to Earth - usually by showing a moment of sick-inducing ultraviolence that reminds viewers that this is, after all, a horror movie.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2018, with the headline 'Revenge served with a retro vibe'. Print Edition | Subscribe