LFF 2018: Why Nicolas Cage's 'Mandy' Reminds Us How Much We'll Miss Composer Johann Johannsson

on Saturday, October 27, 2018
Words: Saam Das

We caught the Nicolas Cage-led psychedelic horror 'Mandy' (don't fret, no spoilers in this piece) at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival, and we're still reeling from the viewing. Totally bonkers, and already well on its way to being a modern cult classic. Thanks in part to Johann Johannsson's incredible, larger-than-life score, one of his final offerings following his untimely passing in February this year.

Directed by Panos Cosmatos, 'Mandy' sees the quiet life of Nicolas Cage's Red and his partner Mandy (Andrea Riseborough, who was terrific in fellow 2018 LFF film 'Nancy') disrupted by a group of fanatics, allowing the film to fully embrace its revenge thriller core. While also allowing Cage to go into "full blown Nicolas Cage mode", as deliciously unhinged (and meme-worthy) as any of his previous work from the likes of 'Face/Off' to 'The Wicker Man'. It truly is a delightfully silly and brilliant film.

Music is at the heart of 'Mandy', with its slow opening soundtracked by King Crimson's 'Starless', but it is Johann Johannsson's efforts that most notably mark the descent into madness as the film progresses. As director Cosmatos explained to Variety, he wanted 'Mandy' to have a "rock-opera feel", and "wanted it to be an audio-visual experience" - something understood by Johannsson, who recruited Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O'Malley and metal producer Randall Dunn to assist with proceedings.

The end result is a world away from his atmospheric score for Denis Vileneuve's meditative 'Arrival', which the Icelandic composer had just finished as he began to receive mood boards related to 'Mandy'. If Johannsson's score for 'Arrival' could be considered dream-like, his offering for 'Mandy' is more nightmarish. Or at the very least, fever-dream inducing.

Johannsson's score for 'Mandy' is perhaps more aligned to his tension-filled work for 2015's 'Sicario', the latter of his two Academy Award nominated scores, following 2014's 'The Theory Of Everything'. But the music here is darker than that of 'Sicario', often leaning toward a more ominous industrial sound, while encapsulating the nostalgia of the eighties era (with particular reference to the soundtracks of John Carpenter) in which 'Mandy' is set. And it's this diversity as well as the relentlessly high quality of work that we'll particularly miss from the Icelandic maestro.

Johannsson sadly died of heart failure in Berlin in February 2018, aged 48. A special In Memoriam performance of Johannsson's works will be live-streamed on Facebook this evening (Saturday 27th October), featuring special appearances from Dustin O'Halloran (one half of A Winged Victory For The Sullen, and Oscar-nominated composer for 2016's 'Lion') and Kira Kira.

'Mandy' is currently on limited release in selected UK cinemas, and is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 29 October 2018. Find more info about the BFI London Film Festival at bfi.org.uk/lff.

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