Thursday, 11 October 2018

LFF 2018: Mandy & Border

You're not going to believe this but they've only gone and made another London Film Festival. In a world of never-ending franchises, Episode 62 of the BFI's tentpole event is the 2018est yet, although whether you'll get the most out of it without having seen the first 61 remains to be seen. Fear not though, dear reader, I'll be on hand to mutter inconsequentially about a tiny percentage of the fest's content, and the first of those inconsequential mutterings follows this undeniably introductory paragraph. Ready? Let's festivate!

dir. Panos Cosmatos, USA / Belgium, 2017
Even by Nicolas Cage's elevated standards of lunacy, Mandy is some weapons-grade mentalism. An arthouse revenge thriller that's also a terrifying study of grief via trippy lighting effects, unbridled carnage and Jóhann Jóhannsson's final (and possibly maddest) score, it's less a film than a voyage through Hell, with Cage as your unhinged, blood-spattered, rictus-grinning pilot. When a half-baked cult led by a failed rock star kidnap his wife (the disappointingly fridged Andrea Riseborough), Cage - he's a lumberjack, but he is not OK - embarks on a roaring rampage of revenge that takes in such highlights as a chainsaw duel, an astonishing scene in a bathroom that has him howling in his pants, and a mac 'n' cheese-spewing cheddar goblin.

It's a slow burner for the first hour, but the literal raging inferno of the back half makes up for it, throwing beautifully-lit gore and incongruous laughs at you with breakneck ferocity. To describe Mandy as all style and no substance would be accurate but also kind of missing the point: director Panos Cosmatos wants you to focus on Cage's character's pain and suffer with him, and makes sure you do so with a big box of visual and aural sorcery the likes of which you probably haven't seen since Dario Argento's ketchup-splashing heyday. If you saw Brawl In Cell Bock 99 at last year's LFF and enjoyed it but thought it would be better if it was on fire, then hoo boy it's Christmas for you, you fucking psycho.

dir. Ali Abbasi, Sweden, 2018
Themes of otherness and belonging are given a Nordic tweak in this mildly bonkers adaptation of Let The Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist's short story. Tina is an unusual woman, pronounced of brow and with a supernatural sense of smell that's a massive help in her job as a customs officer. A born outsider, she begins to learn some surprising truths when the equally neanderthal-looking Vore rocks up with a surprise or two between his legs - and it turns out he's not the only one.

There's an uneasy air to this timely fable about fluid bodies and notions of identification, and while that enhances the surreal, folk-tale vibe, it might also prove problematic in its representation of diversity as monstrous. But Tina's unique situation gives her - and us - the advantage of seeing shades of grey where others only see black and white, and the drama is richer for it. The script (co-written by Lindqvist) gets a little exposition-heavy at times, which dulls the mystery and belies its short story origins on occasion, but there's a lot to love in its poignant portrayal of the pain and pleasure involved in not fitting in. And with its pair of unorthodox-looking protagonists struggling to make sense of their place in humanity, it also works as an ultra-dark, feature length, Scandinavian-flavoured Edward and Tubbs sketch.

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