A film review by Craig J. Koban October 3, 2018

MANDY jjj
 

2018, R, 121 mins.

 

Nicolas Cage as Red Miller  /  Andrea Riseborough as Mandy Bloom  /  Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sand  /  Richard Brake as The Chemist  /  Bill Duke as Caruthers

Directed by Panos Cosmatos  /  Written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn

 

 

 

At the risk of sounding pretentious, MANDY is a movie that isn't designed to be passively watched, but rather actively experienced.  I can't think of any other way to relay how to view this action/horror film, which feels like a 1980s Heavy Metal album come to nightmarish life crossed morphed with an intense fever dream.  It's also an unrelentingly gory revenge thriller, but even that basic descriptor doesn't do it much justice.  

Perhaps I should dig a bit deeper into my description: Imagine a three-way cocktail of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, and George Miller done on equal dosages of LSD and speed and you'll have a better idea.  MANDY is a film that will be hard - dare I say impossible - to digest for some, but once I found myself completely giving into its unbridled madness it wholeheartedly delivered on a level of visceral impact in ways that few recent films have.

Plus, it contains a scene featuring Nicholas Cage - in full ape-shit crazy Cage-ian mode - guzzling a bottle of vodka in one of the most garish looking bathrooms in movie history and ends with him pouring what's left on his wounds, leaving him pathetically growling and crying.

More on that in a bit.

 

 

To say that MANDY is an acquired taste would be the grandest of understatements.  It's the twisted brainchild of writer/director Panos Cosmatos (son of George P., who made a career directing memorable action pictures in the 80s and 90s like RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and TOMBSTONE), and you can tell throughout watching the film that he displays an uncommon level of confidence and showmanship for being a relatively novice filmmaker.  MANDY is as bloody and stomach churningly nauseating as any R-rated film should be (how it escaped without an NC-17 is anyone's guess).  That shouldn't be a shot against Cosmatos meticulously crafting one of the most hallucinogenic and sinisterly atmospheric films I've ever seen, and one that shows its midnight grindhouse flick influences proudly on its sleeves while employing a bravura aesthetic that's positively hypnotizing to view.  Very few films of any given year have unsettled me to my core that also can be appreciated on a level of sheer audacious cinematic artistry as much as this one.

Plus, it contains a scene  of Cage forging his own double handed battle axe that looks like something ripped from a Frank Frazetta fantasy painting. 

More on that in a bit.

The basic accoutrements of a plot almost don't even matter here, but I'll labor to describe just what in the hell happens over the course of MANDY.  The film opens in 1983 and shows a lumberjack named Red (Cage) in a slow introductory credit sequence with King Crimson's "Starless" playing in the background (as an ultimate mood setter).  Red is a quiet and unassuming mountain man that lives to make his girlfriend happy.  She is Mandy (an unrecognizable Andrea Riseborough), a gifted artist whose passions include fantasy books and Motley Crue.  Even though the inseparable pair live in complete solitude in the wild, they are nevertheless content and very much in love.  The crimson hued skies above their cabin seem both not of this planet, but oddly familiar, and this is just the beginning of Cosmatos teasing us throughout about the blurred line between reality and otherworldly fantasy contained within his story.

The couple's life together changes for the absolute worst when a despotic cult leader named - what else - Jeremiah (Linus Roache) spots Mandy one day and becomes immediately smitten with her.  He must have her for his own nefarious and perverted purposes.  His religious cult - The Children of the New Dawn - have abandoned society and instead have embraced an existence devoted to LSD.  With his lust to kidnap Many taking over, Jeremiah decides to employ a motorcycle gang that looks like they just drove in from hell and are hideous spike covered monsters to apprehend Mandy so he can add her to his human collection.  Predictably, Mandy refuses Jeremiah's deplorable advances - even after being abused and horrifically drugged - so the leader decides that the only proper thing to do is to tie her up, thrown her in a duffle bag, hang her upside down, and burn her alive with her captured husband being forced against his will to witness it all.

Red is left for dead.  But he frees himself and pledges violent vengeance.  

And it's at this point when MANDY goes bonkers.

In terms of its monumentally trippy stylistic trappings, MANDY is an unqualified masterpiece for Cosmatos.  There have been psychedelic laced films before, but very few have achieved such a head spinning affect on viewers like this one.  Cosmatos bathes the film in red, diffused lighting, and eerie strobing effects to make MANDY seem like the manifestation of a drug trip come to literal life.  Benjamin Leob's Oscar caliber cinematography amps up the film's ethereal, zonked out strangeness, and combined with delectably energized and nostalgic fuelled synthesized score by Icelandic composer Johan Johansson (who scored Denis Villeneuve's finest films before his untimely passing) and we are left with an audio-visual nirvana of painterly beauty and chilling dread.  There's nothing about MANDY on a pure production level that's perfunctory or dime a dozen.  I love it when directors dare to be different.

Much of the reason why this film feels demonically possessed is because of its sickening menagerie of macabre villains on parade here, some of which - like the cult leader - take human form, whereas others - like the aforementioned biker gang - are monosyllabic creatures from the worst extremes of the post apocalyptic futures of the MAD MAX films.  These beasts are also drugged up on this mysterious red drink that makes them (a) crazy (duh!) and (b) impervious to pain.  This leads to some moments of inspired dark comedy in the mostly morose MANDY to emerge, like when Red seeks out his old buddy Caruthers (genre character actor Bill Duke, sublime here) to help weaponize him for his brutal war on these monsters.  Only in a film like this would a line of dialogue like "I've come for The Reaper" feel so necessary and right.  The weapon in question is a special crossbow that "can cut through bone like a fat kid through cake."  For an added kick, Red, as stated earlier, makes his own battle axe, which he uses with the Reaper to exact his own savage brand of comeuppance on these diseased souls that took his Mandy away.  Oh, and he also brandishes a chainsaw that's shaped like a broad sword at one point.

If there was an actor pitch perfectly married to the material he's in then it would definitely be Cage here.  The aging Academy Award winner has certainly seen his better and more critically cherished days behind him, and it would be easy to label his career as one laugh generating meme after another.  Yet, Cage's penchant for generating complete go for broke performances of feral intensity and bombastic, over the top gusto is what compliments Cosmatos' vision so impeccably well.  And that scene, described earlier, of him emotionally drowning his pains with alcohol while screaming like a bear with his paw caught in a trap is arguably one of his most intoxicating performance moments of his career.  Is he over-playing the emotional range?  Yes.  Is it heartbreakingly effective to convey his character's descent into madness?  For sure.  It takes a special type of deeply focused performer to triumphantly pull off what Cage has here, and considering how badly he's been utilized over the last several years it's a glorious thing to behold Cosmatos harnessing the actor's gonzo madness with a razor sharp precision.  Cage is a freak of nature in MANDY, and both he and this film are incalculably better for it. 

There reaches a point in MANDY when numbing fatigue does indeed start to settle in.  The film's wanton barbarism notwithstanding, there is the issue with it being self indulgently too long for its own good, and more often than not it appears that Cosmatos didn't have the discipline to know when to stop and say when.  And his film will be awfully hard to take in for casual viewers, some of which will probably be fleeing for the exits by well before the half hour mark.  Still, MANDY is a bona fide triumph of style and all out creative lunacy.  It captures its descent into hell vibe with awe inspiring expressionistic strokes while tapping into its B-grade exploitation eccentricities with a real loving reverence.  Cosmatos' DEATH WISH-on-acid film is as unconventional as horror-revenge thrillers comes, and considering that most are done on pure uninspired autopilot lately that makes what he's achieved here all the more special.  It's a brutally mesmerizing work that seems to be occupying a whole other uncharted realm of cinematic consciousness. 

And the fact that it has a blood spattered Nicolas Cage having a chainsaw sword fight with a revolting cultist makes it pretty wicked cool as well

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