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Soundtrack review: Mandy (Johann Johannsson – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Mandy (Johann Johannsson – 2018)

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“Mandy” is a 2018 American action horror film directed by Panos Cosmatos and co-written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2018. The film stars Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough. Somewhere in the primal wilderness near the Shadow Mountains in the year 1983, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) has fallen deeply for the deceptively charming Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). However, the life he has made for himself comes crashing down suddenly and horrifyingly, when a vile band of ravaging cultists and supernatural creatures desecrate his idyllic home with vicious fury. A broken man, Red now lives for one thing only—to hunt down these maniacal villains and exact swift vengeance. This movie looks like it was made for crazy Nic Cage and I can’t wait to see it. The score was written by Johan Johannsson and it might be the last score of his we’ll ever hear.

The plot of “Mandy” leaves little doubt as to how affecting and disturbing the movie will be; as sensitive and soulful Johan Johannsson’s non score music is I know that he often compensates with oppressive and uncomfortable scores. I remember the huge knot in my throat and the suffocating pulse I had while listening to his “Sicario” cues. Johan could get deep and whatever excess of emotion he poured into his albums he squeezed from his tonal experiments for certain movies. “Mandy” is no different except here, it’s not about percussion and pulses or about tension; this time he went for that dissolving minimalism with just a shade of hazy melody that I remember I heard on the Twin Peaks archives, the forest scenes. It’s fascinating to listen to a cue like “Mandy love theme” which can almost count as a melody; it hits that emotional balance that’s just enough to make an ambient cue matter. I hear the synths in there and I am overcome by a warm feeling of nostalgia. I get this music; I understand what the composer is telling me. I know there will be a lot of listeners who will not enjoy this, because it’s mostly tones, because it’s so minimalist but as always, Johan Johannsson experiments, explores a world of musical mystery and makes me feel. Sure, I am biased because I am such a big fan of ambient synth music but I can still write that there are parts of this composition that border on static instead of music; even so they contribute to the building of the dark, almost hallucinatory atmosphere of the movie.

I can see people frowning at a cue like “Horns of Abraxas” and this is just an example of the oppressive, melody less sound that dominates this score, devoid of warmth, almost devoid of emotion. Not me though. I embrace and enjoy this score, I am fascinated by it because I love compositions like this; for me it’s a musical comfort zone, those sparse synth motifs, that noise, it’s reflective and hypnotic. There is a narrative thread, there is a melody hidden among those sounds and I like to shelter it like a dimming flame on a windy night.

“Mandy” will not be for everyone but it surely was for me; there’s no violence or craziness in the music, just reflection and discomfort that go together well. Fans of melodic warmth should stay away from this one while those who enjoy musical experiments, torturous as this one might be, should give it a try as their patience will be rewarded.

Cue rating: 63 / 100

Highlights:
Mandy Love Theme
Death and Ashes
Memories

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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