Death and Ashes – Mandy Review

“I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word and thought throughout our lifetime”

(Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)

“Logic is dull.”

(Alfred Hitchcock)

“I remember all my life
Raining down as cold as ice
A shadow of a man
A face through a window
Crying in the night”

(Barry Manilow, “Mandy”)


In 1983 I was a ten year old boy living in a nowhere town.

Panos Cosmatos was a year younger.

I don’t remember much about 1983.  The ten year old me was busy with nothing.  Life was happening to and around me but not in any conscious way.  I must have had friends but I couldn’t name them now.  I must have gone to school but I couldn’t name my teacher.  I don’t know what I was wearing.  I don’t know what I was listening to.  Maybe 1983 didn’t actually happen to me.

Things were clearly different for nine year old Panos because it is that year that he has chosen as the time and space for “Mandy”.  He could have chosen any of his 44 years as the backdrop for this film but he chose that one.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Don’t blame me.

Blame Panos.

It is his film and his choices that have lodged themselves in what is left of my brain, my mind and the ruins of my soul following the screening of this film that I attended last night.

I need to be honest.

As I left the screening I was sure that I hadn’t enjoyed the film.

I wasn’t dismissive but I didn’t feel…anything.

Then I got home and put my head on the pillow and I began to see one particular moment every time I closed my eyes.

Every time.

Over and over and over…and over again.

Two faces.

One face.



In and out of each other.

I hadn’t really noticed it at the time but now, hours later, it was the only thing I could see.

If you’ve seen the film already then you know what I’m talking about.


This is the middle.

Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) live, exist, in a cabin in the woods.  Lonely but never alone.  And yet, much like the idyllic setting of the retreat that Willem Defoe drags Charlotte Gainsbourg to in “Antichrist”, there is a sense that something else is close at hand…something that threatens their loving, quiet, peaceful life.

Before long that something reveals itself to be Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his far from merry band of Manson Family-esque followers.  Hopped up on indoctrination, mental illness, trauma and control they abduct Mandy after a chance sighting because Jeremiah wants her, needs her, desires her.  To do so they summon the Black Skulls and all Hell breaks loose.



When Mandy spurns Jeremiah she meets a terrible end in front of Red’s eyes and the film descends into a hysterical, maniacal, brutal, blood soaked, vicious and, at times, genuinely unpleasant state of madness.

What is interesting about “Mandy” are the choices that Panos Cosmatos has made.

The soundtrack is a relentless, pounding slice of eighties style electronica that creates a sense of dread and fear.  Like something John Carpenter would dismiss as “too much”.  The work of Johann Johannsson, now sadly no longer with us, it sits comfortably alongside his work for Denis Villeneuve.

The colour palate is layered with muted greys, impenetrable blacks, blood rich reds, hazy greens and browns and then flashes of technicolor during animated scenes that seem to say something very important…and yet I can’t work out what.

The cinematography is award winning stuff…but because it is a genre piece, specifically a horror piece, it probably won’t win any awards.

The editing.

The angles.

The shots.

All choices and every one of them the right choice.


Oh right.

Sure, we can talk about that.

The cast.

Another choice.

Riseborough is the heart of the film.  Her performance is muted…at times mute…and yet we can see and feel all of the scars of her characters life through every look, every subtle gesture and movement.  Then, in a key scene, her character reveals a power, a strength and a force of will that is the equivalent of a tsunami in its ability to utterly destroy what stands before it.  It’s a remarkable performance.

Roache is genuinely terrifying.  It is lazy, and easy, to talk about Charles Manson but, in this instance, it is entirely accurate.  The truth of a character like Manson is laid bare…no glamour, no army of followers, no real power but, instead, a broken, angry, jealous man who seeks out vulnerable people that he can abuse and then bend to his will.  That Roache is able to see into the heart of people like that is testament to his ability.

And that is the cast.


I’ve missed someone?

Hold on.

Let me look at my notes.



Nicolas Cage.

Absurd or absurdist?


Sometimes at the same time.

Cage is a reaction to, a rejection of, the accepted and conventional face of acting.

He operates solely on emotion.

He veers from one extreme to another.

For some people it is too much.

Some people find themselves laughing.

Maybe he is being funny.

I didn’t laugh during “Mandy”.

I looked at Cage and I saw a man broken by the death of the only thing he has ever loved.

I looked at Cage and I saw genuine rage.

I looked at Cage and I saw raw emotion.

Probably just me.


The choice to cast these people is another example of where Cosmatos has made exactly the right choices.

You have a choice to make too.

You can go and see “Mandy” or you can do something else.

There is only one correct choice to be made.

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