A strange feature from Beyond the Black Rainbow’s director Panos Casmoto, is his new film Mandy worth seeing?
-Words by Christian Johnson
Mandy is a film of decadence and excess which refuses do anything in moderation. It is abound with clichés and gore, yet the film’s director and co-writer Panos Casmotos manages to successfully package these within aesthetics beautifully dark and surreal, akin to what you can only imagine Terrence Mallick’s nightmares might be like.
Mandy, Panos Casmotos’ ode to B-Movie horror films, is quite an achievement for a second feature film, demonstrating a remarkable degree of directorial vision. Set in 1983 rural California, the film sees the reclusive life of Red Miller and Mandy Bloom torn apart after they are kidnapped by the Children of the New Dawn, a messianic hippie cult. Aided by a group of cannibalistic acid casualties called The Black Skulls, they try to indoctrinate Mandy into their cult once they drug her with LSD and the sting of a giant wasp. As is expected, Red comes hunting for vengeance armed with a crossbow and a homemade scythe.
Casmotos’ casting of Nicholas Cage as Red is particularly memorable. Cage’s ability to oscillate between the overt and the nuanced is wrangled brilliantly into an honest, and at times, traumatic rendering of grief which weaves the humanity and frustration of Red’s loss into the maniacal hedonism of a man with nothing left.
Mandy’s mantra of indulgence is perhaps most noticeable in its aesthetics. With the help of Benjamin Loeb, the film’s cinematographer, Casmotos has crafted a world of hallucinogenic visuals saturated with colour and light. This is joined by a soundtrack of eerie synths and strings to create something ethereal, otherworldly, yet definitively 80’s.
If ‘Stranger things’ can be described as nostalgia porn, Mandy might be thought of its BDSM equivalent; brutal, excessive, and unnerving. But while nostalgia can often err towards cliché, Mandy approaches it head on and manages to deliver without feeling too contrived. Casmotos’ use of nostalgia though is far from idealistic, offering a pessimistic view of a nation crumbling under the pressures of capitalism and Reagan era conservatism.
At times Cosmatos does go too far. This is particularly noticeable during a shot of a Bengal tiger roaring against a lunar backdrop – think mystic wolf charity shop t-shirt. In a film that is all about satirizing film clichés, it is unsurprising that those clichés sometimes rear their ugly heads.
Casmotos took some risks with Mandy, but he’s pulled off this gamble elegantly. While it’s likely to ruin a night’s sleep or leave you stumbling around disorientated and emotional, it’s well worth watching.