Mandy: A Review


SPOILER ALERT: This review contains spoilers, including a discussion of the (absolutely predictable) ending of Mandy. Proceed with caution if you haven’t seen Mandy, or go watch it yourself first (but don’t spend too much money doing so). 

This is what I remember: Nicolas Cage in a bathroom. His pants are gone, and he’s wearing some sort of yellow shirt, which is covered in blood because the cult-leader stabbed him in the side with a knife that should’ve been big enough to ensure us that he, Nicolas Cage, really shouldn’t be moving around as much as he is in this scene. Cage seems to be handling the situation well, although I should probably call him Red, since that’s the name of his character. Red, pantless, stabbed, witness to the recent and gruesome burning of his lover, and locked in a bathroom, produces a bottle of vodka from a cabinet, takes a few swigs, and begins screaming.

On second thought, I simply have to call him Nicolas Cage rather than Red, because this scene is just so damned Cagey it’s destined for inclusion in some future YouTube “Nicolas Cage’s Worst Acting Moments” compilation video (you know, right there alongside pretty much all of Deadfall and The Wicker Man’s “not the bees!”). The scene, in short, is brilliant. This is the part when that satisfying sense of “now this is what I came here for!” really kicks in.

Which isn’t to say the movie is worthless up until the bathroom scene. The slow-burning beginning, complete with lush forest scenes filtered through Mandy’s trademark hallucinated wash of red and blue (Suspiria anyone?) seems pretty damned promising. The dialogue is a hazy mess of half-glimpsed memories and LSD-fueled rambling, the cult members are truly unsettling, and oh, there’s a motorcycle gang of metal-armored cenobite things you just know Cage is destined to battle. At this juncture (that is, up to the bathroom scene), my passion for Mandy’s delightfully surreal B-movie vibe just about equals our buddy Cage’s for torture scenes.

So what’s this movie about? Basically, Cage… er… Red’s girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), has snagged the eye of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a freakazoid cult leader with ties to the cenobite biker things that seems to be centered around drugs (hallucinogens, specifically). Sand gets his goons to subdue Cage and snatch Mandy so they can feed her the “chemist’s best,” (one part LSD, one part sting to the jugular by a giant wasp they keep in a jar of liquid). Mandy trips, Sand shows her his penis, and she laughs. Predictably, this pretty much kills Sand’s buzz, so he orders his cult to kill her with fire in return. Cage gets a front-row seat to the whole event before they finally leave him to die. It should come as no surprise that he’s able to free himself from his bonds and hand-craft a wicked solid steel battleaxe in his forge before departing on a revenge mission which promises to be like no other. All this happens within the first 45 minutes or so.

Great. Sounds like a wrap. Time to sign off and move onto the next film, right?

God, I wish it were that easy.

I wanted to like this so bad it hurt, especially during the scene where Red goes to his friend’s trailer (the friend is Caruthers, played by Bill Duke) and gets entirely filled in on the legendary history of the Black Skulls (the above-mentioned cenobite-biker-thing gang) by way of a supposedly “incidental” conversation. Caruthers even gives Red their location. That’s right. All the integral aspects of Red’s revenge plan are conveniently provided in a short, hamfisted dialogue that seems cut and pasted from the script notes to save someone the effort of revealing things in a more interesting way. Sloppy? Fuck yes, but that wouldn’t have been enough to sink entire the ship.

After the disheartening Caruthers dialogue, Red spends about three seconds searching for the Black Skulls. In essence, there’s no “hunt” for the demon bikers at all, despite the fact that Mandy has delightfully taken its time up to this point. Red kills one of the Black Skulls with a crossbow, then gets captured… again, and when he wakes and breaks out of his bonds… again, he makes surprisingly quick and easy work of these scary-looking monsters before heading off to hunt the human element of the Children of the New Dawn cult. “Wow, that was quick. Surely you skipped something…” you say. Actually, I didn’t. Compared to the first part of the movie, the revenge scene progresses in a sloppily brisk-paced series of predictable and rather unimaginative kills.

Yes, I really do “get it”–this movie isn’t supposed to be polished squeaky clean. As I said at the beginning of this review, Mandy promised to play to Cage’s worst impulses, and I readily acknowledged and applauded this bold aim. Make no mistake, Red’s revenge scenes are definitely cringeworthy, and if I’m going to be completely honest, I did enjoy the animated shorts of Mandy that appear intermittently throughout the second half.

Still, cool visuals and Cage killing people isn’t enough for greatness. It feels like the second half of this thing literally had no script. Even worse, Mandy fell into two devastating plot miscalculations that could’ve been easily avoided. Caruthers, as I mentioned, shouldn’t have furnished the whole backstory in one fell swoop. Much of the film’s tension revolved around the mystery of the Black Skulls who seemed to materialize in the forest only with the initiation of an occult ritual. Having some random character whose sole function is to explain the whole thing away the moment Red hints that he’s had a rough night was a bad idea, since it evaporates that much-needed tension in a strikingly uncreative way.

Above all, Red shouldn’t have killed the Black Skulls first. I get that Red had to kill cult leader Sand last, but shouldn’t a gang of cenobite-demons decked out in Gwar-level heavy metal armor have been end-of-level “bosses” protecting Sand rather than easily-disposable grunts? Given the narrative tension generated by these things, this misstep is truly unforgivable. Again, it would’ve been so easy to have Red kill the human cult members first (who don’t pose any additional difficulty to Red, despite the fact that he faces them last) and to face the obscure Black Skulls in a final encounter that Mandy tried so hard to build up to during its earlier scenes. As it stands, unfortunately, Mandy expends all its narrative power right at the onset of Red’s revenge, and the rest of the movie drags along on a whimpering limp.

Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t give into my impulse to buy this thing before watching. In a discussion at IndieWire’s Sundance Studio, director Panos Cosmatos says that he’s working against the “Tyranny of Perfection,” which he defines as the need “to be seen as utterly precise and perfect or seen as a failure.” Cosmatos goes on to say that he likes “rough edges on things,” and I don’t see anything inherently wrong with this. Particularly in horror films, rough edges can lend an endearing quality to a film that might have been forgettable otherwise (big fan of The People Under the Stairs, here), and that’s exactly what I expected (as I’ve repeated ad nauseum now) with Mandy. In this case, at least from a writer’s perspective, the latter half of Mandy feels less “rough” than rushed and underdeveloped.

Yeah, rough edges are cool, but effective storytelling is vital. Almost anything seems to go as long as you tell a good story. At least when plotting your narrative arc, no one will fault you for striving for perfection.

 -Justin A. Burnett

Japan: The World’s Hottest Destination Gets a Hot New Sport (NSFW)

By Trebor Elliverf, Travel Correspondent

The world is a big and exciting rock, neither round nor flat but decidedly quadrangular in shape and rather droopy in spots. Nowhere is its dimensions more defined than in the Land of the Rising Sun, a country that resembles nothing so much as an overly aroused meerkat.

It neither matters a little nor at all that I have never actually set foot on its fairy-tale paths, for I can imagine myself there right now. With modern advancements in astral projection I can bask in the brilliant autumn afternoon, marveling at the meritorious flora and fauna of its gardens without ever leaving the safety and security of my Davenport.

Japan is, indeed, the hottest destination of this year and the reasons for that designation are manifold. Whether we are talking about the pristine architecture of the Shinto shrines, held so sacrosanct by local savages, or rhapsodizing about the radiant allure of Kyoto and its whisper-soft geisha district, the picture is clear. Japan is host to so many wonderful sights and sensations that a tourist would have to be imbecilic not to consider it for their next sojourn.

The thatched-roof teahouses of Yoshiki-en will allow you to calm your nerves and allay jet lag before you are spirited away to a bathhouse for some much-needed attention from the kimono crowd. Once there, you will gain purchase to a world never previously afforded to a Westerner.

On my last astral holiday I stayed in a hotel nestled among the rich vermilion pagodas sprouting from a crimson forest. Once there I was afforded the honor and luxury of flogging my very own geisha with a fine stick of bamboo before giving her eyeballs a firm tongue lashing.

Eyeball licking is all the rage in Japan right now, along with the playful shenanigans of Kancho. These are more recent phenomena which have joined old customs like “loach loading” and doll love as part of the one-of-a-kind sexual fabric of society.

But even in all of their complexity and splendor, they can’t help but make up a microcosm of what Japan has to offer the eager foreigner. A visit to the International Manga Museum may just result in a scene snatched right out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Here the plushies of the world unite and bow their heads, honoring the perverts of old who shaped Asia’s curious obsession with the animated form.

While the decadent attraction of watching a young baka onna getting herself fully immersed in goo is deserving of innumerable passages, one should not ignore the larger and richer culture of the region.

Japan is nothing if not a foodie’s wet dream, its many markets and resutorans serving as a mecca for gourmands the world over. The sheer grandiloquence of their cuisine can be traced back throughout the ages.

Ancient customs continue to fascinate, such as the eating of fetuses, and its Shefu approach their trade with a precision and creative je ne sais quoi worthy of Guy Fieri. The very height of their culinary expertise can be found in the fermented fish guts of Shiokara.

Verily, there are far too many aspects of Japanese culture that inspire admiration, from the once-great tradition of smothering female babies with wet paper to their professional shoving of passengers into subway cars. However, one aspect is slowly transforming the country into a master of athletic endurance supōtsu.

The first thing I think of when planning out some proper trav and leis is sports—the world’s sweat-anointed gladiators grappling with each other like lovers crotch-locked in raw estrus, their sinewy bodies exuding all of the violent, competitive ire that is the true spirit of humanity.

The Empire of Greater Japan has long been at the vanguard of modern sport, having given us the grandiose wonders of sumo wrestling and martial arts. But in recent years, mass interest in these tired disciplines has waned and with it have ticket sales.

Fortunately for the residents of Asia’s eastern coast, a new sport has risen to prominence and it is poised to take over the globe. The galvanizing spectacle of the so-called “Sound Off” has arrived and to observe it is to behold a phenomenon that has no equal.

I recently projected myself to the Sapporo Dome, one of only two covered stadiums in all of Japan, for the season’s first Sound Off game. A hushed crowd of some 40,000 fans watched the field intently as its players slowly emerged from their dugouts.

Clad only in white house slippers, their tawny flesh glistening with a fresh sheen of petroleum jelly, they walked methodically towards their opponents, stopped before markers on the artificial grass and bowed.

The sound of the fans’ collective lump swallowing was audible as each player then produced a thin metal rod from their respective quivers and charged at one another. To the Westerner’s eye it would seem that these two gentlemen were lacquered up to wrestle each other to the ground and, ultimately, pierce one another’s flesh with the rods, but in Japan subtlety and nuance are valued over cheap thrills.

Once both players reached the middle of the field, they reached into their quivers anew and took out matching drop cloths. They rolled them out and lay them down on the Astroturf, each taking a seat on their mat.

Satisfied with their positions, both players held up their right fists and gestured at the other. Player one held up two fingers as one would in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissor. Player two grinned as he held up his fist. Rock clearly beat scissor. This could only mean one thing.

Player two held his metal rod aloft for the crowd to inspect it. Even from up in the nosebleeds, it was evident that the rod was approximately six inches in length.

The sounding of sounding off commenced; player two slowly inserted the thin metal rod into his urethra, carefully sliding it in one quarter of an inch at a time, his determined gaze fixed upon his opponent who looked on stolidly.

Player two stifled a groan as the metal rod disappeared into his peehole. The crowd cheered for just a moment before falling quiet again. Player two cocked his head to the side as player one sized up the situation.

After a moment of muted hesitation, player one nodded and player two removed the rod from his penis, setting the lubricated antenna down upon his drop cloth as player one fished out a 12-inch rod from his quiver.

There are few rules to a Sound Off—about the only thing one needs to understand is that a penalty is earned if a rod ends up in an orifice unrelated to the game. If such a penetration occurs, the offending player must pay for the next advertising spot during the game’s live feed.

Watching every inch of player one’s mighty staff become one with him was awe-inspiring. Like bearing witness to an erupting volcano, there was an admirable magnificence to its death-defying madness. There was also something beautiful in its fundamental attraction.

The Japanese do not need the bluster of the Western world’s bombastic sporting events. There are no skirmishes here, no encroachments or line of scrimmage. The only line is the one the players are willing to cross in their effort to insert the largest possible object in their bladder.

This is no doubt the future of modern sport, in this country and every other. After all, if there is one thing sports is all about it’s the good old-fashioned dick measuring contest.

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Featured Image by Justin A. Burnett