“Mandy”

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy might be Nicolas Cage’s career revival. Save for a few stellar supporting performances in the last ten years (i.e. Kick-Ass), Cage has become more of a laughing stock in recent years. That reputation can be put to rest.

Red (Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live a quiet, peaceful life at their remote cabin in the Shadow Mountains. When cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) becomes fixated on Mandy, Red finds his world turned upside down. He then arms himself with a crossbow, a handmade axe, and a chainsaw to fight Jeremiah’s cult.

Mandy is one of the zaniest films in recent memory. Want to watch a neon-color schemed horror film that features psychedelic visuals and Cage drunkenly screaming in a bathroom mirror? Look no further! Want to watch a movie that features both a chainsaw duel and philosophical monologues about the universe? Look no further! Arthouse and grindhouse haven’t meshed this well together since Drive.

Mandy works better as a rock opera than a horror film. It’s told in three separate chapters, each focusing primarily on one character. “Shadow Mountains, 1983 AD” is Mandy’s story and is a candy-colored romantic tragedy. We learn through vague lines of dialogue of Mandy’s tragic upbringing and how she feels at peace with Red. Riseborough and Cage both are appropriately quiet and expressive in this segment.

“Children of the New Dawn” is Jeremiah’s story and is psychological horror at its finest. It expands the world building of Mandy as we’re focused on a Manson-like cult and a demonic motorcycle gang. Roache delivers a chilling performance as the creepy Jeremiah. In one key scene, Jeremiah delivers a self-righteous monologue to a drugged-out character while listening to The Carpenters. It’s an attack on our visual and auditory senses.

“Mandy” is Red’s chapter and that’s when the gears shift into full grindhouse mode. Cage embraces his own maniacal talent in the role of a broken, vengeful man. You can’t help but laugh at certain outbursts, but also feel sympathy for his predicament “Mandy” is also an extremely bloody segment filled with impalement, head crushing, decapitation, and sadism. Cage’s performance, along with beautifully drawn animation sequences, add panache to this gory chapter.

Cosmatos’s sophomore film suffers from mild pacing issues due to its structure. It’s forgivable since each segment is its own artistic achievement. Backed by the late, great Johann Johannsson’s (Prisoners, Arrival) metal-like score and King Crimson songs, Mandy isn’t just a horror film. It’s a rock music tribute, Cosmatos’s direction also shows off his love for comic books with certain camera angles and elaborate set designs.

Cage recently said in an interview that people will only see Mandy for him. It’s true, but I would say watch Mandy if you want to see an original, artistic genre film that’s subversive on a technical and narrative level.

Grade: A-

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“Gerald’s Game”

What a year for Stephen King, huh? He’s rolling in royalties from It and The Dark Tower (maybe not so much the latter. Now his controversial novel Gerald’s Game has been adapted for Netflix.

The estranged Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) take a vacation to spice up their love life. Things take a horrific turn when Gerald suffers a heart attack and leaves Jessie handcuffed to her bed. There’s no neighbors, housekeepers, or travelers nearby. When Jessie has some surreal hallucinations and a starving dog makes its way inside, how will Jessie escape? Can she even?

Writer/director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) once again delivers a nail-biting genre film that utilizes editing to its full potential. Gerald’s Game isn’t a film you can look away from (and you’ll want to at one particular point), but you must watch; like Oculus, Flanagan splices the film in a way that tricks its viewers.

I want to be abundantly clear that Gerald’s Game is NOT a horror film. Yes, there’s a survival situation, creepy visions, and some grisly moments, but it’s a film about toxic relationships, trauma, and catharsis.

Jessie spends most of her time shackled to the bed recounting her marriage to Gerald. We learn that Gerald was misogynistic, unfaithful, manipulative, and condescending towards Jessie. Jessie also finds catharsis in the situation as she uses this and flashbacks of her traumatic childhood to motivate her.

The underrated Carla Gugino delivers a demanding-yet-graceful performance as Jessie. We don’t just watch her panic, but we also see her interact with an imagined dominant version of herself. These sequences add the right dose of humor. Hopefully, the Academy isn’t too snobby over horror or Netflix and consider Gugino for Best Actress.

Bruce Greenwood (also underrated) is convincing as Gerald. He’s a despicable human in the opening act, but as Jessie imagines their confrontations throughout the film, he becomes more complex.

The final act is a slight copout; It’s a pet peeve of mine when films end in a exposition-fueled narrative explaining what happened in the aftermath. Gerald’s Game disappointingly does this via written letter. Given Flanagan’s unconventional narrative techniques, I would have expected something less straightforward.

Still, Gerald’s Game is a terrific thriller and a great kickoff for the Halloween season.

Grade: A-