With his 2010 debut Beyond The Black Rainbow, Panos Cosmatos both confused and captivated viewers with an unapologetic head trip into a twisted abyss of paranoia, delusion and startling imagery that screamed decades worth of influence. While I think on a narrative scale, his debut is lacking a substantial thread to grasp and connect to, it’s at very least worth a view for the visceral experience alone. With his new follow up Mandy, Cosmatos has cemented himself as an authoritative voice in the modern landscape of genre film-making. Mandy is a masterpiece, a brutal and beautiful blast of a film, at its center contains a burning star of emotion in one of the most under-appreciated performers we have in the medium, Nicolas Cage.
Letting Mandy wash over you conjures the nostalgia of browsing through your local video store as a kid, being moved in many ways by the insane VHS covers or b-horror trash, or if you’re like myself, browsing through the vinyl record covers of your parents Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden collections. There isn’t really any other way to say it: the film is completely insane in the best way imaginable. It’s a revenge thriller, sure, and while it delivers all the goods in spades that one would desire from a revenge flick; it’s what you wouldn’t expect that lands the best. Cosmatos has built around the carnage unleashed within, an outer shell of longing and sorrow.
Taking place in 1983, deep in what one can only assume is the thick Northwestern wilderness, Nicolas Cage plays Red: a lumberjack who lives in a expansive cabin with the titular, Mandy (played by an unrecognizable Andrea Riseborough) a tender spoken artist with perhaps the most killer collection of rock n’ roll tee shirts captured on film. Mandy spends her time reading fantastical stories, and dreaming about her connection with the ever expanding cosmos. It’s clear that Red and Mandy are deeply in love, the type of love rarely pinned down correctly in movies. It’s rooted into their souls, their existence seems intertwined, dependent completely on one another’s energy.
The film’s first half feels like a contemplative study on the depth of which we can feel for someone. Not only does this come through the steady dialogue between Red and Mandy, but through the warmth in the colors. This isn’t new for Cosmatos, as with his first film he’s an expert at shifting moods through the simple use of color. In fact, it’s through his brilliant use of color that the film transitions into its savage second half.
Upon a stroll through the woods, Mandy crosses the path of a passing van, catching the attention of a madman cult leader, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Jeremiah instantly feels overwhelmed with Mandy’s beauty and allure. He then assigns his gang of heavily drugged followers on a mission to retrieve Mandy in hopes to getting her to succumb to his pitch that their souls were destined for one another. And in the most humiliating of ways, Mandy shuts down Jeremiah’s advances, in which he takes vengeful action against. An action so tragic, it launches Red into a bloody rampage that is only elevated by pure, unfiltered Cage craziness.
Pause any frame from Mandy and you’d have a gorgeous piece modern Gothic art worthy to be hung up for display. It cannot be stated enough the impact of not just the film’s use of color is, but the utilization of the frame. Every shot feels measured and planned out to painstaking lengths. All of the performances are grand, but it’s the pitch perfect casting of Cage that earns its top billing status. It’s easy to poke fun at what Cage often brings to the table, especially with his usual run of direct-to-video releases in recent years, but with Mandy we’re reminded of the mountain of talent he truly is.
You expect the typical Cage tics; bulging eyed expressions, relentless screaming, and ridiculous one liners you catch yourself repeating shamefully later on. What you might expect, is the nuance behind his performance in this movie. Without much dialogue, the emotional range on display is truly astounding, the best we’ve seen from him in years. It isn’t to say the movie wouldn’t work if another actor were cast (Cosmatos has said in interviews he originally planned for Cage to play Jeremiah), but I’m willing to bet it’d be a lot less interesting.
If every other element of the film’s greatness isn’t enough, it’s accompanied by final film score of the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson’s. The score evokes a sense of melancholy and dread that only amplifies the overall impact of the film. It will soon join my ever-expanding collection. There is no doubt there will be detractors of the film. The general audience reaction especially to the film’s more experimental first half is sure to conjure a divided reaction. I challenge anybody that does watch Mandy, however, to ask themselves the last time they have seen anything quite like it. For your entertainment dollar, I shouldn’t need to say much more to sell an outrageous Nicolas Cage LSD fueled nightmare down a bloody road for revenge.