Mandy Nicolas CageYear: 2018
Director(s): Panos Cosmatos
Writer(s): Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 121 mins

Synopsis: A broken and haunted man hunts an unhinged religious sect. (Source)

Imagine the wildest heavy metal mixtape ever created. This probably includes long hair, leather, blood, mayhem, otherworldly vistas, demonic creatures, cults, illegible metal typography and revenge. Now, multiply whatever feeble images you’ve conjured up and multiply them tenfold. Yep, Mandy has all of those and more. Director Panos Cosmatos’ latest is a rock opera shaped by loss and anger. It takes us outside of ourselves and transcends its frame with otherworldly images and an unmistakable sense of poignancy. Unlike most films, which we sit back and watch as bystanders, this immerses us on deeper level. It’s also a film that’s more insane that what words can say, because it’s expressly about what words can’t say. In essence, this is a pure dream, one steeped in instant iconography and led by Cosmatos’ singular vision of neon-hued rage.

In 1983, Red (Nicolas Cage) is a lumberjack who lives a very simple, secluded life. His existence has purpose, however, with Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), the raven-haired love of his life. The couple have more than what they need within each other, unspoiled by what lies beyond the dense forest around them. Enter enigmatic cult-leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). He leads a handful of followers known as the Children of the New Dawn. When Sand sees Mandy by chance, he’s instantly consumed and knows that he needs to have her. After his plans go horribly wrong, he’s set on a collision course with Red, who hunts the charlatan with the wrath of something not quite of this world. Bodies will be mangled, chainsaws will fly, and Red will go to the ends of the earth in a fit of consuming vengeance.

On surface, Cosmatos’ film is a deceptively simple revenge story. Deeper, it’s a vivid experience that thrives through subconscious impulse. With each act, Cosmatos immerses us within shifting moods and ideas. From pure bliss, to nightmare and then something more cosmic, the evocative narrative twists into something bigger than any explanation. Since the film adheres to its own unhinged sense of logic, it’s free from the tethers of reality and forges a literal dark path into the blood-red unknown. Horror fans absolutely won’t be disappointed with what unfolds on screen, but Cosmatos’ film is also more complex than its contemporaries. First and foremost, this is about the psychological toil behind a well curated slew of genre trappings. We truly feel every ounce of desperation and violent act of catharsis. Needless to say, the final product is a bold statement that straddles art house sensibility with crowd-pleasing awe, even as it drags us straight into the deepest parts of hell.

Mandy review Andrea RiseboroughDespite the unparalleled world-building, this insanity works because of the humanity beneath. The effort is literally brought to life by a trio of hardcore performances. As the titular character, Riseborough is the film’s soul. Though she has the smallest part, she makes a huge impact, making the most of her scenes and building Mandy as someone who carries a lot of strength within. As the vengeful Red, Cage delivers one of the best performances of his career. By design, his dialogue is minimal, leaving the actor to do a lot of heavy lifting through physicality and an emotive face that speaks without words. As things ratchet up in the film’s third act, Cage ties everything together, spouting one-liners that can feel both threatening and tongue-in-cheek. Near stealing the show, Linus Roache’s Jeremiah Sand is the embodiment of evil male toxicity. Roache’s performances is masterful, evoking fear and an uncanny charisma which downplays how dangerous he is. Roache is definitely the centerpiece of the film’s study of everything that’s vile, constantly going beyond what we expect and never ceasing to peel back layers.

More than most, this film was designed for the big screen. It’s a vicious attack on the senses that was meant to be seen large and loud, and we can’t help but want to get lost within it. I realize a lot of this may sound like a hyperbole, but I kid you not, Cosmatos’ film is not of this earth. This is a singular achievement from the mind of a madman, and proof that words like visionary or auteur are used too loosely and freely. Mandy is a phenomenal head trip that evokes Jodorowsky spliced with Sam Raimi, and with a trancelike narrative that will undoubtedly make Refn weep. The more I think on the film, the more it reveals itself to me, and I can’t wait to see it again to dive even deeper.