You’re likely going to be watching the new film from Beyond the Black Rainbow writer/director Panos Cosmatos at home, however you get your flicks, due to the very limited theatrical release. It may be tempting to turn off and move on if you don’t immediately received the promised most insane Nic Cage performance in a series of insane performances. Just wait, you will.
Sticking around? Good. The wait is worthy and earned. Mandy is one of the most incredible and original films of the year. Costamotos creates a film that is unlike any other, a veritable assault on the senses. Starting with a pure-early 80s soft-focus credit sequence with a song by King Crimson and ending with an image straight out of cosmic horror, Mandy has to be seen to be believed.
Before the slaughter, we need set up. The first half follows the titular character played by Andrea Riseborough. Along with The Death of Stalin, this marks a banner year for Riseborough; let her be a star now! She’s the love of Nic Cage’s Red, a lumberjack she makes a home with in the deep woods in 1983. This may be a some sort of post-apocalyptic 1983, there is an oddness in the air in which many of the Susperia-like color choices may be diegetic (I’m aware that word is for sound but point is there). Or it could just be a stylistic choice. It wouldn’t’ put it past the film that the vibrant use of color in this manner is actually part of the landscape. Her idyllic life of red, art, cheap paperback novels, and occasional storekeeping is disrupted when she gains the attention of a local cult leader, played with ferocity by Linus Roache. She is taken by the cultists.
Then the ballyhooed gore-bathed half begins. Blood is spilled, and Nic is unCaged. It would be easy to dismiss Cage’s performance as just hamming up, chewing scenery far past the previous high (heh) of Vampire’s Kiss but it oddly proves how solid of an actor he is. The scene where in the plot shifts from Mandy to Red, a long take of Cage in a bathroom is taken in one shot; Cage, in his underwear, runs a gamut of emotions between swigs of vodka. The scene is ridiculous, pathetic, and heartbreaking.
The LSD and cocaine-fueled (on-screen…. Likely off too) revenge murder-a-thon will be legendary. It’s metal as hell. I want to rave about how awesome the sequences are, what cage and everyone else does but I also want you to experience it without knowing. Let’s just cut it down to: Cage spends most of his half covered in blood, wearing a vest likely made of human flesh. There is a tiger, Richard Brake, and at one point is a chainsaw fight. Has there been on screen chainsaw-on-chainsaw fight since the similarly over the top Dennis Hopper took on the Sawyers in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2?
On the back-half alone, Mandy is a wonderful film. But without the lead up, it would be an empty slaughter. Cage and Riseborough has solid, low-key chemistry. The cultist group isn’t entirely fleshed out, but they at least are not interchangeable. We learn enough about to them to hate them before the narrative for a while. Roache’s leader Jeremiah Sands, is as gleefully wacky and scary as many of Cage’s most famous freak-out roles. This role was originally offered to Cage, but he felt more like Red – filled with rage he needed to get out. Tension is built into every scene. Partly in waiting for whatever is going to set Cage off, but also in honestly caring for Mandy and Red.
A few other observations:
-Cosmatos’s film is straight up beautiful. Vibrant uses of darkness with splotches of color create an off-kilter world. Above I mentioned Susperia; Giallo colong is all over, both to create mood and highlight items, people, and actions. Espeically in one of the the most intense drug-tripping sequences I’ve seen. The way it’s colored and filmed is haunting. I’ve never done any hallucinogens but
-The whole design is nearly iconic in oddness. Shots look straight from the covers of the dimestore novels Mandy loves or Frank Franzetta paintings. On that note, there are few title cards that look just like the titles as one would see in Paperbacks from Hell. (Somewhere I can hear Will Erickson squeal. You should also read the book, and Wills’ blog on the subject: Too Much Horror Fiction).
-ATV driving Cenobites! Best looking Cenobites since Hellbound: Hellraiser II.
-Johann Johannsson’s score is astounding and pitch perfect. The film is dedicated to the late composer. IMBD lists there are a few more films yet to be released that he scored but per Cosmatos, Johannsson died not long after completing this score so it may have been his last.
-BILL DUKE! Funny him showing up in the same week Predator gets a new sequel. Richard Brake also has a stand-out single scene. Good to see you man.
-A faux-commercial half-way through is a highlight and may likely make the YouTube rounds without context just for it’s weirdness.
Mandy is a hell of a ride. Whoo boy, this film isn’t for everyone but it was for me. Drugged up insanity from a cast firing on all cylinders, lead by Nic Cage, Mandy is the likely-new-cult sensation high on every drug and whim imaginable.
Mandy is available Sept 14th on VOD.