Director: Panos Cosmatos
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roach, Bill Duke, a bunch of real life cultists, The Cheddar Goblin
Plot: Red and Mandy live a peaceful life in the Shadow Mountains, a place that is idyllic during the day and nightmarishly red and misty at night. One day, Jeremiah Sand and his cult get lost on the way to the recording studio and pass by Mandy, who chooses the worst possible moment to look interesting. Sand decides that he must possess her so sends his goons to summon some demonic bikers and kidnap her.
Subplot: An overweight kid has a gnawing sense of dread as he suspects his new friends don’t like him as much as they say they do.
Subplot 2: Bill Duke sits in a trailer, worrying that ‘Fuck Off’ isn’t clear enough.
Is there nothing else out there like Mandy?
I don’t watch enough movies to make that claim, but it is weird, and slow-paced, and it does have those moments that transcend expectations and make you think, J J Abrams would never have done that.
Instead of reviewing it, I’m gonna point out all those moments, in no real order.
Calling the satanic bikers using the rock of ??
As with most of the film, there’s no exposition about what the rock of ?? does or how it works or how Jeremiah Sand came across it, the cultists just park their van in the middle of a blood forest and blow on it. Then wait.
While waiting, the blond cultist who always has his mouth open, winds down the window, looks out at nothing, winds it back up again, pauses, winds it down again, looks out at nothing etc. The cultist who blew on the rock is caught in the foreground slowly losing his patience and maybe what’s left of his mind. In most other films, there would’ve been dialogue. In this one, nope.
When they’re not glued to their leader, these cultists hate each other.
The whole tripped out speech made by Jeremiah Sand to ‘drugged by an insect’ Mandy is great, but the way he makes the ‘sensational’ line work is genius. Everything he says is slow and off kilter and, apart from calling the Carpenters sensational, the words tell you everything you need to know about the guy, but in a creepy way. He’s not logical, or clever, he’s just completely, utterly sure of himself + his own greatness + what he deserves [which is everything]. I don’t know how he managed to get a cult behind him, perhaps they were fans of his music or they enjoy his sadism, or he used the insect on them, but it clearly wasn’t a twisting of their intellect.
Both a bed with a stunning view and a display case for psychos to stand in the forest and perv on you. How they ever get any sleep there is a mystery.
This kind of ambiguity runs through the whole film, though I’m gonna need to think a bit to pull out all the examples.
One – Nicolas Cage is both a comfort blanket and a psycho. It’s not delineated, but seems like he was either a soldier or a mercenary in a previous life, that’s why he has no qualms about cutting off people’s heads with a Klingon sword.
Two – Children of the New Dawn is a close-knit family [unless you’re chubby] yet also brutal to outsiders. Not sure if this one fits actually…they’re not that close, they’re just in thrall to Jeremiah Sand and he uses them without remorse.
Three – Drugs help Mandy to deal with her anxiety yet also turn those bikers into demons
Can’t think of any more, and two of the ones I did think of don’t seem to hold up. Maybe ambiguity doesn’t run through the film as much as I thought it did.
Lady in the Lake
I’ve been to a few lakes and my wife has never stripped naked and risen slowly out and onto the shore without saying a word.
This scene feels like Nicolas Cage is meeting a lake nymph.
Also, Mandy’s pupils are uneven in size…not matched…I know there’s a word for that…which gives her even more of an ethereal aura. It’s an achievement for any film to make Nicolas Cage the normal one of the couple.
Actually, what does this scene tell us about their relationship?
I’m not sure, but it does give them a form of attachment, at least for me. I don’t know how to explain it. It creates the attachment by making them seem like two different species. Yet still a couple.
This kind of scene is quite rare in film, probably cos it’s so against our normal experience. Most couples would not have performed this kind of action, though they may now replicate it in the future. If your girlfriend/boyfriend/grandma ever comes out of a lake naked with mismatched pupils then you will know they’ve seen Mandy.
No more red filter or purple mist or weird camera angles or slow mo, just Nicolas Cage in his pants channelling himself in Vampire’s Kiss.
It’s implied that he used to be an alcoholic, so this is him going off the rails, so much so that he almost forgets that the idea is to put the alcohol on his wounds, not drink the whole bottle.
Is this Cage doing his old shtick?
A little bit, but it works well here cos it’s preceded by a Goblin Cheddar Cheese commercial and Cage’s confused reaction to it. I’m not American so I don’t know if that was a real advert back in 1983, but I am pretty sure they didn’t slow down the goblin coming out of the cereal in the original. Really creepy, and a creative way of delaying grief. All the time you’re thinking, when’s he gonna cry, when’s he gonna rage, and then they put him in front of the TV and play that.
Is this genius?
If you look at the plot alone, it’s quite generic, a simple revenge tale, but if you look at how it’s written and what the director chooses to focus on with the camera, then it is definitely something different. It doesn’t hit all its marks, some of the weirdness becomes a bit mundane e.g. the satanic bikers, but would Hollywood ever accept this in a mainstream movie?
Is it cos it doesn’t relate to any kind of realistic experience?
Or is it cos Linas Roach gets his dick out?
Linas Roach’s dick
Weird that it’s still a little bit shocking for male actors to do this in film…maybe shocking for female actors to do it too actually, especially full frontal. When he was taking off his dressing gown, I don’t think anyone thought he’d be completely naked under there, but why not? It fits his character like a glove. He’s used to being loved, he expected Mandy to jump on him [mostly due to the insect bite and the drugs], why would he bother wearing pants?
It’s interesting that there’s no female nudity, except for the animated sequence. We never really needed to see any either. The nervous cultist goes into Jeremiah’s room and we know what will happen next. We know Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough are close from how they interact and how they look at each other. The elderly cultist does “everything wrong” so is beyond sex with Sand. Even the porn shown on the satanic biker’s TV isn’t that hardcore.
I’m no prude, but I quite liked that there was no pointless tits scene.
Is that book Mandy is reading real?
Sorry, Dubliners, Crime and Punishment, Dylan Thomas etc., your grip is slipping.
I was gonna leave it there, but this bugs me, especially in films where the characters are supposed to exist on the margins of society, yet they’re still reading mainstream-accepted literature.
If your characters are truly out there, they’d be reading zines or odd science fiction/fantasy, not Martin Amis or Norman Mailer or Susan Sontag. Not that those writers are bad, but they’re not outsiders and they never will be.
Mandy rejecting cult worship
No need for any long rebukes or moralising speeches, just two lines will do it.
‘You wrote this song?’
‘And it’s about you.’
Even when you know it’ll end up killing you.
Okay, she couldn’t be sure Sand would murder her, but it’s never a good idea to humiliate a cult leader in his own sex den.
The burning & Plot Structure
I saw this written somewhere, that the first half belongs to Andrea Riseborough and the second half to Nicolas Cage, and it’s true. It’s also a good way of creating tension as we get to spend a whole hour with Mandy before the burning, so we’re not sure what’s going to happen to her. Most other movies would have set up her and Cage as a happy couple living in a scenic forest, then, twenty minutes in, the cult turns up, murders her and leaves Cage for dead.
But this one gives her not just a character, but a hidden character that we never get a clear picture of. Why is she rising out of the lake so weirdly? What is she smoking? Why is she so determined to stay in the forest? Why does she fixate on dead animals?
None of these questions are answered. Does it give her death extra depth emotionally? I think so, but others might think she was too unknowable to really care about, and she’s still only functioning as the trigger for Cage’s descent into bathroom raging and Klingon style revenge.
It’s a valid point, I would’ve preferred it if she’d managed to stay alive, or at least survive deeper into the film, but an hour of vagueness and mystery worked too.
They either put her in a bag for budgetary reasons or as an artistic choice. I’m leaning towards the former – it’s not easy to burn someone to death on screen, look at the monk in ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring again’, they used a close up of his face with the fire foregrounded, a lot of other movies have done this too – but whatever the reason, they still made it work.
All you see of her is her teeth clenched through a burnt piece of sack, and then her skull a few hours later [in movie time], which gets blown away as Cage touches it.
I don’t know if she was knocked out as she was being burnt, but it’s still horrific, especially when you see her teeth.
It’s even more horrific when you realise the cultists went back into the house and watched late night TV afterwards.
Death on a budget
There was clearly some money spent on this, it’s a Nicolas Cage film, but there were some workarounds too. The cultists killed by Klingon sword and chainsaw were filmed in silhouette and from above, so the director wouldn’t have to spend more cash on pig’s blood and prosthetics. It worked quite well. The old loon’s decapitated head and Jeremiah’s crushed skull were already melting when the shot zoomed in, so it’s fair that they looked a bit ropey.
Of course, the atmospheric lighting/red mist effects helped cover the demons too. Could you imagine if they’d been shot in stark daylight?
Church in a quarry
I don’t usually dwell on theme or symbolism, but…a wooden, easily-burnt church stuck in the middle of a quarry, with a shaft and tunnel system leading to a man cave guarded by an overly defensive mother figure…that pretty much sums up Jeremiah Sand and his Children of the New Dawn.
He’s literally tunnelled underground beneath an echo chamber to spread the word of how great his Jeremiah song is and how he deserves everything.
Even if you look at it practically, what kind of a church is gonna grow in a quarry?
God is in this room
If you’re gonna have your skull crushed, you might as well earn it.
Panic [at rolling head on floor]
Claim of divinity
Insult [you’re meat]
Offer to suck Cage’s dick
I still deserve everything
My skull is surprisingly durable
Where are my fans?
Popped out eyeballs
I don’t really care about Oscars – look at the list of previous Best Picture winners, try and find more than two that are anyone’s favourite film – but Linus Roach should get something for this performance. Possibly just for getting his cock out. Or the way he does 80-90% of his final speech with a complete sense of his own greatness and inevitable survival.
His two main [almost] monologues in this film are so well-written. So random yet so precise. Do you like the Carpenters? Bad line. Oh, here’s my song that’s really similar. Switches to great line.
Andrea Riseborough should get something too, she’s so subtle, so different in every role, and so different from how she is in real life. Or how she seems to be in interviews, I don’t actually know her.
It’s obvious that her character has pretty extreme anxiety yet she doesn’t have a fit once. It’s just there in her reactions. Nicolas Cage suggests moving away from the Shadow Mountains and she says, nope, not going anywhere, even if there is a ridiculous fog of dread surrounding our cabin.
He’s done this kind of thing before, so he won’t get anything. But he’s still unique. No other actor can deliver lines the way he can [except Avery Brooks]. Cos he’s weird in real life too [as is Avery Brooks].
I’ll get out of your hair now…
Bill Duke living in a trailer on his own, in the middle of nowhere, with no desire to talk to anyone, even Nic Cage…it’s amazing anyone in this film bothers to keep living.
The landscape is so bleak…ah, ambiguous too…some people would kill to have that kind of existence…and we don’t know the surrounding environment of that trailer…there could be another beautiful lake nearby…or hiking trails…Bill Duke could be using the isolation to meditate and reach the limits of the mind…could he be doing anything else? Reading perhaps? I don’t know if I saw a TV there. I don’t know if I saw any books. How long could you sit in a trailer before you got bored?
Yeah, there were parts of this film that fit the story and matched the atmosphere – mainly the isolation and lack of people or towns – but it was a bit unrealistic at times. Where was everyone?
The more I think about it, the emptier the movie seems.
Maybe that’s why it turns into an alien planet at the end.
Or the planet from Mandy’s book.
Is that where they were all along?
I saw an interview with him and the cast, not surprised that he looks like a bear. An uncomfortable bear forced into press junkets. Poor guy. There’s nothing worse than being forced to describe your own work, especially if your work is almost indescribable.
He should hide for a while, get a trailer next to Bill Duke and focus on thinking and hiking.
Refuse the Rosemary’s Baby remake they offer him.
Write a horror set in the Oort Cloud
Or remake Blake’s 7
Blake’s 7, with the first season set in the Oort Cloud, and Andrea Riseborough going fascist as Servalan.