Mandy (2018) and its Play on the Role of Evil and the Supernatural in Horror

The latest movie of Panos Cosmatos, a companion piece (both set in 1983) to his earlier Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010). And it scores as many 1’s (“the actors are not even attractive!”) as 10’s (“cinematographic masterpiece!”) on IMDb.

The opening credits and music had me instantly. The font, the color red, the flickering and unsharpness of watching an old TV. It oozed 1980’s. What is it about last century that every decade had its own style, colors, music, fashion and then somehow everything stayed more or less the same since the 90’s? Damn you, Internet!

For us the 80’s are feel good, only think about the honey sweet tv series Stranger Things. In Mandy the sweetness is there in the romance between Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and Red (Nicolas Cage). They live in the middle of nowhere in a quirky house. When he comes home from work he makes stupid jokes and she laughs. They watch a bad horror movie together, in a serious way. She loves metal, fantasy and drawing, he loves her. They sleep under the stars. They are cute.

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At the same time we are not sure what exactly is going on. There is a trippy feel, red hues, dreamy imagery, drawings.

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And then things happen. A cultist leader decides he wants to have Mandy. The cult summons a biker crew. They get Mandy. For Red there is now only the path of revenge.

Mandy’s Monster

In horror there is something going on that cannot really happen. It transgresses the boundaries of our reality. This anomaly of reality – the monster –  is threatening and evil. Evil is not part of our world. The protagonist in horror is usually like us, part of our world, fighting off the monster.  Mandy plays with these notions, both on the part of the unnatural evil and on the part of the protagist. Mandy makes evil part of our world and the protagonist part of the supernatural.

Crazy Evil

Does the ‘Horn of Abraxas’ the cultists use summon real demons? Or is it just a way to contact a bunch violent guys, to be payed in hallucinogenic drugs?

And how supernatural is the cultist leader? He lets Mandy listen to one of his songs. Naked. She asks if he wrote it. If it is about him. And then she laughs. She is drugged, hit, taken prisoner, but she can’t help but laugh at him.

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This evil is a pathetic kind of evil. It’s about losers. Rejects. Drug users. Snowflakes, or as Red calls them: vicious snowflakes. Crazy evil. Weird, but not unreal. Shouldn’t they be treated instead of punished? Revenge on the pathetic feels different to watch than revenge on pure evil.

Who is Red?

The cult’s actions did transgress the boundaries of Red and Mandy’s bodies in a horrific way. “They wronged you,” and that is true.  Was the focus of the movie in the beginning mostly on Mandy, now our eyes are on Red. He sets out to take revenge. And in a way that is much closer to something supernatural and out of this world than any of the bad guys. He creates a special symbolic sword. He visits a man who guides him. There is a tiger. In the confrontation with the cultist leader Red says that psychotics drown and mystics swim.

Red is the mystic. He swims. He sees more than we do. The cultist leader is a psychotic. In a way the psychotic transgresses the boundaries of our world, but not in an unnatural way. What Red is doing is more unnatural. Who is he? Is he part of our world?

Style

The dreamy or tripping quality never leaves the movie, both in imagery and helped by the music of Jóhann Jóhansson. Some images are plain cool for the genrefans (Nightbeast! Chainsaw battle! Bow with a scope!). Sometimes it is really funny. But it stays dreamy, it stays slow. Moments of gore, yes, but all part of a larger aesthetic. The movie drives the viewer more in style and in visceral experience than in story telling. We experience a dream world. A world of drugs? Or, is this the experience of the world of a mystic?

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