Where to even begin? Panos Cosmatos, director of 2012’s genre melting Beyond The Black Rainbow is back with another borderline indefinable movie that is another audio-visual feast for the eyes. And he’s brought Nicolas Cage along for the ride, front and center. Mandy is a movie like few others.
The story, set in the Californian Shadow Mountains circa 1983, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) leads a quiet and comfy life as a lumberjack with his beloved Mandy Bloom (Andrea Louise Riseborough). Their happiness is brought to an abrupt end when Mandy catches the eye of cult leader and drug kingpin Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and he decides to take her as his own. In the aftermath, Red has become enraged beyond comprehension, arms himself to the teeth, and vows revenge against Sand, his zealots, and his psychotic minions.
That’s as basic a presence as I can provide. Per Cosmatos’ usual style, the film carries a lot of ambiguity and interpretation- and is all the better for it. Though it is definitely far more of a narrative film than Beyond The Black Rainbow and a bit more straightforward, it’s something that needs to be experienced. I was fortunate enough to attend a screening with Cosmatos, Cage, and Roache in attendance, and the director gave us some insight into the creation of the film: He wanted to make ‘the antidote’ to BTBR and he wanted to make a distilled action/revenge movie. He succeeded in both objectives by leaps and bounds. Mandy is aggressive, violent, loud, and angry as opposed to BTBR‘s cold and methodical sci-fi story.
In terms of being an action/revenge movie, it checks every box in the genre and makes some new ones. It brings to mind everything from Death Wish, to Phantasm to all manner of influences that blend into something entirely new and beautiful. Featuring a hypnotic score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson with synth tracks that haunt during the scenes of dread and creepiness and peaks into cries for battle during Red’s quest for revenge.
Nicolas Cage truly shines in the role of Red Miller, and what is assuredly one of the Oscar winner’s best performances on screen. Cage has garnered a reputation for his memorable, over the top scenes, and in Mandy that is stretched to the entire second half of the movie. Red in his domestic and work life is just a guy wanting to live his life and love Mandy, but when push comes to shove, he let’s loose an Incredible Hulk level of rage against his enemies and enacts brutal vengeance against them. Cage’s performance is exemplary, because the sheer tsunami of emotions he unleashes really cements his character and highlights his spree. And as reported previously reported, Cage takes some cues from everyone’s favorite summer camp slasher, Jason Voorhees. Fueled by madness, drugs, and adrenaline, Red becomes a force to be reckoned with and gets fairly creative and brutal with some finishing kills.
The villains in the movie stand out in their own ways as well. Jeremiah Sand is a cult leader and former folk rocker in the vein of Charlie Manson, with an emphasis made on his toxic influence and misogyny, lashing out at his followers more often than his perceived enemies. He’s the flipside to Beyond The Black Rainbow‘s main antagonist, the psycho psychologist Dr. Barry Nyle played chillingly by Michael Rogers. While Barry was cold, calculating, and methodical, Jeremiah has a hairtrigger temper, childish tantrums, and lives a hedonistic lifestyle. While Barry dons a cold black suit toward the end, Jeremiah wears a stark white robe when trying to indoctrinate Mandy as ‘his’ property. Though his strung-out ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ act as his main minions, he has some genuinely terrifying allies. A quartet of insane, hyper-violent bikers called ‘The Black Skulls’. Summoned by blood and drugs, they enact Jeremiah’s horrifying will. These four definitely stand-out as antagonists, like a cross between the Hellraiser cenobites, The Plague duo of hitmen from Hobo With A Shotgun, and an Iron Maiden album cover. Needless to say, the fight between them and Red is unforgettable.
Which is the only issue I had with Mandy, Red faces off with The Black Skulls and after this excellent set-piece and series of duels, the pacing slows down a little bit… with the exception fo the equally stand-out chainsaw duel. That issue aside, Mandy is everything I could have ever wanted and never realized I would have wanted in such a movie. It is an absurd homage to the 80’s movies where one man can seek justice for a wrong-doing while heaping on an other-worldly experience on top of it. Even if you don’t think it’s your thing, I cannot recommend Mandy enough. It’s a spiritual experience.
Mandy is now available in select theaters and VOD and will be available on Blu-Ray October 30th. Just in time for Halloween.