"Mandy" and "The Prestige" are this week's picks.
Her strong enchantments failing,
Her towers of fear in wreck,
Her limbecks dried of poisons
And the knife at her neck,
The Queen of air and darkness
Begins to shrill and cry,
"O young man, O my slayer,
To-morrow you shall die."
O Queen of air and darkness,
I think 'tis truth you say,
And I shall die tomorrow;
But you will die to-day.
— A.E. Houseman, “Her Strong Enchantments Failing”
Welcome, readers, to Cringe Blog, Binge Blog’s twin sibling, with whom something just, uh, isn’t right. Cringe Blog will be staying with us for the month of October and bring you chilling recommendations each week. Yes, we had so much fun with him last year that we invited him back. I just hope that all the creaking floorboards and ghastly apparitions I experienced last year didn’t come back with him.
I hope that A.E. Houseman poem appropriately set the mood. If you have a suggestion for a future Cringe Blog opening poem (short ones only, please), email me at [email protected].
Shudder, rated R, 121 minutes
What better way to kick off a month of Cringe Blog than with Nicolas Cage slaying a gang of mutant, drug-fueled bikers and misogynistic cultists?
Seemingly a cult classic the moment it was released, “Mandy” is the second feature film from director Panos Cosmatos. It is a wild ride, though the first half of the film might have you wondering if you put on the right movie. Red Miller (Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) are a happy couple living in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. He’s a lumberjack; she’s an artist with a fantasy bent. They watch movies together and talk about the constellations. It’s cute.
Then they get their cabin broken into by those mutant, drug-fueled bikers after the leader of those misogynistic cultists, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), gets a glimpse of Mandy and feels like he deserves to have her or whatever. He calls on the mutant bikers to do his dirty work by using a magical conch shell — it’s a whole thing. Anyway, they kidnap Red and Mandy, and bad things happen to them and then Red seeks revenge. That’s the whole plot.
But you’re not watching “Mandy” for the plot. You’re watching to watch Nic Cage absolutely lose his mind on some dudes, and the second half of the movie delivers that. It’s some of his best work in years, and no, I don’t mean “best” in an ironic way. His performance is legitimately good, and it’s thanks to the slow first half of the movie that it works. You care about Red and Mandy’s relationship, so when bad things happen to them, you feel it.
Cosmatos drips almost every frame in either cherry red or ocean blue light. It’s a gimmick but an effective one, especially when he drops it. The kidnapping scene, when the screen is given a strobe effect with pulsing pale blue streaks (almost like lightning strikes), is a showstopper and one of the most chilling scenes of any 2018 film. Make sure you watch it in the dark to get the full effect.
“The Prestige” (2006)
MaxGo, rated PG-13, 130 minutes
“But Ryan, ‘The Prestige’ isn’t a horror film.”
I can hear the complaints now, and I have two rebuttals:
- If the final minutes of the movie don’t strike terror in you — over the lengths men will go to win a personal war, if nothing else — maybe see a doctor?
- October is about more than just scares. It is a time for the supernatural to reign, and there’s nothing more supernatural than a magician (or magicians) that might not be pulling tricks at all.
At the heart of Christopher Nolan’s best film is the rivalry between magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). They used to be friends, both working under the tutelage of John Cutter (Michael Caine), until Borden uses Angier’s wife, Julia (Piper Perabo), in a trick that goes wrong — wrong in a way Borden could have prevented, or at least, that’s what Angier thinks.
From then on, the pair’s relationship was one of destruction, in that they seemingly exist only to one-up each other. Eventually, Borden pulls off an illusion that seems literally impossible, and Angier spends every waking moment figuring out how he did it, even visiting a reclusive scientist in the process — one Nikola Telsa (David Bowie), who is in an obsessive fight of his own.
I don’t want to say too much more. This film has more twists than an ice dancing routine, and some of them are merely distractions to keep you from guessing bigger reveals. It’s a film about magic, but it’s also easy to see it being Nolan’s way of talking about moviemaking, especially in the film’s narration. “The Prestige” is Nolan pulling the wool over our collective eyes and telling us it’s what we want. You know what: He’s right!
All the performances here are outstanding, especially Jackman and Bane in … difficult roles. You’ll see what I mean when you watch it. But this is Nolan’s movie. He’s flexing his filmmaking and screenwriting muscles and cements himself as one of the top creators in Hollywood. It’s not a straightforward romp, but cerebral audiences will be left wholly satiated.
What else would you expect from a film that begins, “Are you watching closely?”
Quote of the Week:
Robert Angier (Jackman) talking to Alfred Borden (Bale) in "The Prestige":
"You never understood why we did this. The audience knows the truth: The world is simple. It's miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you got to see something really special. You really don't know? It was the look on their faces."