So we finally saw Mandy (2018) back in December, and I’ve been having a low-key but constantly-running train about it in my mind.
Painted a bit in advertisement as some sort of arthouse-homage to 80’s grindhouse revenge, it is that, sorta, but is also part of another 80’s tradition that’s somewhat subtlely-alluded to in the film, the vaguely-fantasy/proto-“urban fantasy” laid out in works by authors like Stephen King. Mandy herself is even reading a King/The Dark Tower-esque novel at the beginning of the film, and she paints surreal fantasy landscapes out of Robert E. Howard’s wildest Frazetta-esque dreams. The elements surrounding the drug-addled monster bikers summoned from deep in the woods by a mystic horn, the power of belief turning a burnt-out Manson-esque rockstar into a callow creature like Jeremiah Sand, and the clear allusions to Nicholas Cage’s Red being some form of traumatized “warrior” feels incredibly reliant on the horror tropes of 80’s paperbacks that drew heavily on fantasy and supernatural elements.
A lot of those fantasy elements in horror are the threads that arguably are the roots of more modern “weird fiction” and “urban fantasy/horror,” utilizing the deliberate blurring of the concrete real world and the mythical/legendary world beyond immediate perception (that arguably exists in tandem with us). It’s that more than the hyper-violent aspects of the film that define it arguably here, because so much of the film feels like a dream, blending lucidity with fantasy, reality with inner thoughts and monologues.
And yet, it’s not a dream.
If anything, the 80’s heavy metal overtones of the film (music, t-shirts, background, etc) make this film feel like the manifestation of a concept album, where story is good, but light, and in the background compared to the themes that the film/album is attempting to convey here. Mandy conveys the theme of the point-of-no-return that revenge stories seem to skip over, especially when it comes to hyperviolent ones that we enjoy and immerse ourselves in. In a way, Mandy reminds me of one of my favorite comics, Grendel, by Matt Wagner (and a veritable cabal of artists and cowriters).
I’ve written about Grendel before and how it manifests a unique view on the true nature of violence as a solution, and how Wagner’s magnum opus’ greatest feat is painfully illustrating how “might makes right” only in short term, and it ultimately collapses into pathetic anarchy and bloated excess destined to dissolve into nothing. But in the moment, in the heat of it?
It’s good, it feels good and righteous.
Mandy feels confusing, it feels like how Red’s mind must be in the aftermath, and how he’s not thinking. He’s not considering what to do next, because he’s perpetually in the heat of it, like a horror-movie monster or a fantasy-epic barbarian, a character in the world(s) that Mandy would paint, a world that maybe they’re living in right now, fantasy and magic intertwined with reality. The Black Skulls bike gang, for example, are a great example of this, a cunning combination of Mad Max-esque post-apocalytpic biker gang crossed with an eternal and preternatural, almost eldritch wild hunt band forever roaming the dirt roads of the Pacific Northwest.
There are definite nostalgic elements to Mandy that I appreciate, because they’re controlled, a slow deliberate burn instead of a gush of fuel and fire all over the dry grass like a lot of nostalgia-heavy works that you see these days. Seen through the sensibilities and lens of Panos Cosmatos too, the film is less an ode to a particular genre and time period.
Instead, it attempts to tap into the atmosphere of several genres’ aesthetics, intertwining into something less like a film and more like a wild experience. It is a wild hunt, in every sense.