Director: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache
Length: 2h 1m
For his second feature film Panos Cosmatos wanted to create a world inspired by heavy metal album covers from the 70s. Mandy is a film split between dreamy sentimentality and lurid – often absurd – fantasy nightmare. The story itself might not offer much depth, but the combination of Nicolas Cage at his most wild-eyed, hallucinogenic cinematography, and a fantastic score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson adds up to a unique revenge horror.
Mandy begins with us exploring Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy’s (Andrea Riseborough) happy secluded relationship, introducing us to a 1983 pine-forest fantasy world. Then, things take a turn for the worse as a “crazy evil” biker gang called the black skulls and a Charles Mason styled cult, headed by the unhinged Jerimiah Sands, (Linus Roache) show up and destroy Red and Mandy’s peaceful ethereal love. The performance of Andrea Riseborough is notable; it is the basis for the audience caring about Red’s quest for revenge. Linus Roache also puts in a fantastic performance as Jerimiah Sands, who is the quintessential deranged narcissist.
Though, there are moments in the first hour of the film that simply do not work. Much of the dialogue feels like a poor-man’s David Lynch; the stilted, off-kilter style adds little to the film. Though beautifully imagined and shot, the first half is too long and verges on tedium at times. Because of the first act being overstretched the second half seems to explode into madness. Moody electronic bass rifts replace the gentle dreamy score, lurid neon red accompanies spike-clad monster bikers — enter Nicolas Cage.
The title screen is introduced halfway through, this is where Mandy begins. The descent into madness begins as Nicolas Cage goes full on Nicolas Cage, wearing only pants and a tiger t-shirt, he howls like a wounded animal simultaneously swigging vodka; it is a moment that is raw and ridiculous, but still moving in an uncanny way. His style of raw acting is a perfect fit for Mandy, which itself is conscious of its overwrought ridiculousness. At times, the action feels like a parody of 80s body-horror which is darkly humorous, the chainsaw fight is the apex of this; though, there are moments that are genuinely gut-wrenching.
Credit is due to the cinematographer Benjamin Loeb who has masterfully created shots that have stuck firm in the memory days after watching. The demon bikers could have easily looked silly if shot conventionally, but they are completely nightmarish as they ride around in the red, misty night. The distinctiveness of the world of Mandy is fantastic to see in a period of bland superhero films. The driving force of the action is the score, which is a combination of raging bass and otherworldly tranquillity. It acts as the pulse of the madness for Red’s cathartic rage; becoming increasingly devoid of reality, he is swept deeper into the nightmare.
Everything about this film is a pendulum; swinging between serenity and wrath, realism and fantasy, absurdity and delicate melodrama. This motif is distinct to Cosmatos; his first feature, Beyond the black rainbow — released in 2010 — has a similar tone to Mandy. Cosmatos is an auteur filmmaker who is certainly on the rise. The film feels as without time, but the setting of 1980s adds a nostalgic glint, as if Cosmatos wants the film to look like it was made in the 1980s. One example of this is the use of film grain, the picture looks grubby and fluid, even still shots look as though they are swimming. At points Mandy seems deliberately ambiguous, no doubt many will watch it as an allegory. There are some allusions in the film that could be interpreted as political, but it depends on how much you are willing to – or want — to delve beyond the surface of the story. That said, there is no question that Mandy stands by itself as an entertaining film; a throwback to simple tales of bloody, violent revenge.