When the trailer for “Mandy” was released I knew right away it was going to be an experience unlike any other. Boy it sure was. Movies like this don’t end up at the Sundance film festival but it did earlier this year as part of their midnight movie showcase. “Mandy” falls exactly in that category as a “midnight movie”. The term midnight movie is a B movie or cult film shown at midnight, either at art house theaters or on television. This practice started in the 1950s with local television stations around the United States airing low-budget genre films as late-night programming, often with a host.
“Mandy” is a risky bet for a midnight movie at Sundance. “Mandy” comes from the mind of Panos Cosmatos. This is his long awaited follow up to his film “Beyond The Black Rainbow”, to which I have not seen. If the name Cosmatos sounds familiar, it should as Panos father is George P Cosmatos director of Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra”, “Rambo Part 2”, “Leviathan” and his most publicized project the western “Tombstone” with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. The father and son filmmakers are on whole opposite sides of the field. Watching Panos’s kaleidoscopic grindhouse horror thriller it’s evident how different their styles are.
Cosmatos doubles down on the wild imagery within the first hour and the extreme violence of the security and half, he takes the audience on a literal ride into Hell in a manner that’s both unsettling and massively thrilling. He orchestrates “Mandy” as an immersive audio and visual experience unlike I’ve seen. This film requires a home theater set up. “Mandy” is specialized work, but it’s a doozy, cutting through with a cosmic atmosphere and a nightmarish realms, monstrous encounters with creatures in black leather, and a path of revenge where people are literally teared apart. Cosmatos doesn’t know when to quit, he could have easily trimmed 30 minutes off the film, but he’s making movies on a whole other level.
Hardcore fans, especially long time Nicolas Cage fans (I’m certainly one of them) will no doubt be waiting for the hard core Cage rage promised by the posters and early promotional images, and even though it takes some mileage to happen, once it does it’s relentless, brutal and beautiful. The last hour of the film is a masterpiece. It ranks as Cage’s most hardcore trip into the dark side. The masterful second hour kicks off with a scene when a badly beaten Red (Cage) chugs a bottle of whisky while veering between tears and absolute rage at his situation. The action is beautifully off the wall, with him taking on a demented trio of bikers from hell that do the bidding of Linus Roache’s cult leader character, who’s become obsessed with Mandy, and wants her for himself, putting him on the receiving end of the revengeful Cage rage. It’s unrelentingly brutal, with a dose of hilarious with Cage pausing mid murder to do a bump of hell coke off a piece of broken glass, and making a bit of a mistake dipping into the cult’s LSD supply, although it helps him to do his full rage mode. He even pauses to weld himself a cool scythe and get some help with weapons from the great Bill Duke (“Predator”).
Living a peaceful life in the Shadow Mountains, lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) is devoted to his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), an artist with a passion for fantasy and horror. While walking to work one day, Mandy catches the eye of Jeremiah (A fantastic Linus Roach), the leader of The Children of the New Dawn, a satanic cult that lost contact with reality long ago after pledging their devotion to LSD. Calling on creatures of darkness to kidnap Mandy, Jeremiah has plans for the new addition to his human zoo, offering her the world in exchange for her submission. When she refuses, Jeremiah eliminates her in front of Red, leaving the ruined man with nothing but his rage full of revenge. Red arms himself with weapons and focuses to lay fury on Jeremiah, beginning a journey into madness to exact revenge on those who destroyed one thing in his life.
Seeing as how uncompromisingly strange “Mandy” is, Cosmatos’s film will not be to all tastes, especially that first hour. It’s grind house, horror, revenge thriller, acid trip all in one. It’s a cult classic just waiting to happen and clearly it’s Cage’s best work in a long time. Panos Costamos takes and throws the rule book for revenge movies right out the window and fashions a dream like piece of cinematic carnage. It’s a cosmic piece of cinema art that plays like a dream which was fuelled by a night of excessive drug taking.
The first hour in particular doesn’t really have any real story and you could condense all the necessary information into about 10 minutes. Cage is mainly sidelined during the hour, with Riseborough and Roach scoring the majority of the screen-time. However, once Cage is well “uncaged” he goes full-tilt boogie. For all it’s lacking in plot and character, “Mandy” makes up for in visuals and audio. Best way to describe it is it’s a live action version of a 1980s metal album cover or even a rock musical, featuring blood red color palates. Cosmatos peppers “Mandy” with moments of clarity, adding bits of animation giving the feature a graphic novel feel. With the combination of the first hour that plays as a Terrence Malick film on acid and the heavy metal visual style, will be the most divisive aspect of people’s reaction to “Mandy”.
The brilliant score was one of the last films scored by the masterful Johann Johannsson (“Sicario”, “Arrival” and “Prisoners”) who sadly passed away this year. It’s some of his best work, and he combines the electronic soundscapes with the doom of metal guitar riffs. The music and visuals work off each other with precision to make an overwhelming experience for the senses, it’s a frenetic onslaught for the eyes and ears. “Mandy” is a triumph of genre film making and visual art, it’s an unfiltered glimpse into the mind of an artist.
As I said the second half of the film is masterful, a straight masterpiece which belongs all to Nicolas Cage as it transforms into an “Evil Dead” and “Army of Darkness” splatter fest. Proving that Cage can still go full gonzo and unleashes madness like nothing we’ve ever seen from him. Armed with a vicious crossbow dubbed “The Widowmaker” and a nasty bladed weapon he forges himself, Red shows no mercy and neither does Cosmatos. The wait is well worth it to see Cage in a psychotic performance that will certainly mark a highlight in this stage of his career.
Running a half hour longer than it should , and also having a slow-burn of a first act, but a first act that a less compelling director might not have been bold enough to include.
“Mandy” will appeal to those who are down with Cosmatos’ embrace of a true visionary style and with his skill of the grotesque. It reaches such a level that some will not be able to handle the full two hours of it. I plead please check out the second hour of it, it’s masterfully amazing.
GRADE: ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★★