I can’t think of any movie that is like Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. This is a movie that’s like the cover of a heavy metal album cover come to life in swirl of psychedelic colors, but with a violent edge that escalates the film’s warped visual style. Mandy seems like it’s pulled from so many different pop culture influence that extend beyond the cinema that in a swirl of manic violence and neon colors the various ingredients melt together into a wildly unique whole. It also goes to show that when given engaging material, Nicolas Cage is still one of the finest actors of his generation, willing to take the kinds of risks that other actors wouldn’t dare to consider for a second.
Set in 1983 in the California Shadow Mountains, Cage stars as Red Miller, a woodsman who works long and hard to earn his modest living. At home, Red lives with Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), who spends her days reading fantasy novels whose covers closely reflect the film’s fantastical visual style. Mandy catches the eye of members of a cult run by Jerimiah Sand (Linus Roache). The demented members of the cult come to Red and Mandy’s home, and wind up beating Red to pulp and tying him up in barbed wire as they kill Mandy before his eyes. Red survives this horrific ordeal and gathers a few weapons from his old friend Caruthers (Bill Duke) and sets out to exact revenge on this murderous cult.
The plot for Mandy doesn’t unfold in a clear narrative sense. It’s almost inconsequential why and how things happen. This is a film much more interested in mood. There’s a psychedelic sheen to every neon-infused frame Mandy that is amplified by the wailing synthesizers of Jóhann Jóhannsson in one of the late composer’s final scores. Part of me wants to consider Mandy a horror film but it’s so far away from any genre convention that categorizing it seems practically impossible.
The first half of the film is all about establishing its unique tone that oozes dread and operates with the threat of violence dangling over its characters. The second half of Mandy is when it flies off into full blown madness. Nicolas Cage is quiet and passive for most of the film until he’s forced to take up arms on his quest for vengeance, which is kicked off by a wild scene where Cage’s Red is stricken with grief over the loss of his Mandy while the rage boils to the surface and chugs vodka straight from the bottle. Then it’s suddenly a movie where Nicolas Cage is wielding a massive ax and chainsaw as he strolls through a landscape that was practically created by Frank Frazetta. Blood liberally gushes from the victims in this manic swirl of violence as the once stoic Cage starts to come alive in the frenzy of violence. It all culminates in a wild chainsaw fight that is best left undescribed in detail but is certainly unforgettable.
Mandy is one hell of a wild ride at the cinema with its lush, fantastical visuals and its grizzly violence. This isn’t a movie for everyone with its detached sense of plot and its willingness to leave a number of aspects unanswered. But if you’re willing to follow Panos Cosmatos into the psychedelic nightmare you’ll be rewarded with one of the year’s most interesting and unique movies. The past few years have seen Nicolas Cage take some pretty bad roles in pretty bad movies in order to deal with his personal financial woes, but when given material he obviously is invested in the screen legend is still able to ramp it up to 11, and he does so and then some in crazed violent trip through the great beyond that is Mandy.
A wild, psychedelic film unlike anything I’ve ever seen, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is like a violent neon dream within a Frank Frazetta painting, placing an emphasis on atmosphere over plot and featuring a wild performance by Nicolas Cage.