Spooktoper 2018: Starless and Shane Black – Thoughts On Mandy and The Predator

Referred to in the Twittersphere as the year’s most “metal” movie, without any definition of what “metal” might be in this context, Panos Cosmatos’ sophomore feature Mandy actually opens with King Crimson’s “Starless”. The analogy, then, is supposed to be progressive rock, before it became spoiled by post-Rush technical wankery (see: Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men). Its slow burn structure also speaks to this – Rael was just a Puerto Rican kid in New York City before he ended up in the colony of Slippermen, and it’s not much different for the tragic story of Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). Marketed on the promise of its inevitable bloodbath, the film starts plaintively with several scenes of the couple living in the Shadow Mountains of California, before the threat of a cult named Children of the New Dawn approaches their quiet home.

Mandy-1

Takes are long, meditative almost, and the images are hued red, blue, or green with such startling intensity that it makes, say, Nicolas Winding Refn’s use of color grounded in comparison. For half of its running time, Mandy is quiet. When the violence finally erupts, it’s as satisfying and brutal as anything since Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage. In between the calm and the storm are the film’s two best scenes – a confrontation between Mandy and the cult leader played by Linus Roache, channeling Dennis Hopper at his most unhinged, followed by a cry of anguish by Cage’s Red.

Cosmatos is the son of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Tombstone journeyman director George P. Cosmatos, and he has often spoken in interviews about being influenced about posters and VHS covers of films he wasn’t allowed to watch as a child. Glenn Kenny, writing for the New York Times, refers to Mandy’s singular tone as “pulp Tarkovsky.” It’s a good image, though Tarkovsky was further from my mind than trash-master Albert Pyun, a filmmaker whose works featured the exact sort of garish cover art that inspired Cosmatos. There’s a purity to Mandy. It’s free of irony. The film’s slow rhythms, minimalist design, and wild premise (I failed to mention there are LSD biker monsters) are closer to classic 80s schlock cinema than many may be willing to admit, though where many of those films lacked technical competence, Cosmatos considers their stranger elements features rather than bugs. And in place of the fun, there is genuine pain.

ThePredator1

Like Cosmatos, Shane Black is a legacy act, though the difference is that the legacy is his own. His The Predator (co-written by The Monster Squad’s Fred Dekker) promises an 80s throwback of a different sort, a melding of one of the decade’s best action films and Black’s own comedic send-up of masculine identities. The premise is as follows: It’s McTiernan’s Predator, but every character is the same one Black played in that film (a buffoon, if you need be reminded). In theory, it’s the perfect blockbuster for the resurgence Black has been having since his excellent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. In theory.

Boyd Holbrook, who is neither Garrett Hedlund nor Charlie Hunnam, plays sniper Quinn McKenna, who spots one of the titular Predators crash landing during a mission. Captured by cleaner Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, chewing the scenery wonderfully), he’s sent to an ex-military loony bin, where he teams up with his groupmates to take the Predator on. There’s a biologist played by Olivia Munn who happens upon the crew, and Quinn also has an autistic son played by Jacob Tremblay who figures out the Predator language. There are also Predator dogs. If this paragraph sounds messy and overstuffed, that’s because that’s exactly what the plot of the film is.

The problem with The Predator as a Shane Black film can be summarized by the fact that it takes place on Halloween rather than his usual Christmas setting. It’s a holiday, sure, but it’s the wrong one. There’s still some recognizable festivity, particularly between the self-proclaimed “loonies” and Munn, but the more gunfire and CGI that’s thrown at the screen, the more the banter and personality becomes muted. The action here is serviceable at best, and a final confrontation in a dark forest misses the mark entirely – the original Predator was patient, but the finale here is too loud, too late. The less said about the ending, the better. It’s nice to get some Blackisms on the big screen every once in a while, though. I wish there was more of him here.

– Kyle Dilla

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