2018 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Nicholas Cage, Andrea Risenborough | directed by Panos Cosmatos | 2 hrs 1 minute |
Halloween Horrorfest # 11
I suppose, if you really wanted to, you could knock Mandy, Panos Cosmatos’ long-awaited follow-up to cult favorite Beyond the Black Rainbow, as a case of style over substance. That doesn’t touch on what a triumph of style it is though. It is a surreal experience of a film, kept at a buzzing simmer of hallucinogenic atmosphere that seems to have one foot in reality and one in a nightmare. It’s got a vibrant color pallette to the Nth degree, is full of shots that look like paintings and with it’s sulfuric rocky backdrops and constant billowing smoke looks like it was shot on location in hell.
The backbone to this gleefully indulgent visual feast is a revenge film and the plot is as simple and streamlined as revenge films usually are. How does Costamos differentiate this from the usual genre fair? He chooses full blown insanity. Which bring us to Nicholas Cage. Motivated by rumored tax debts and paying off his extravagant New Orleans tomb, Cage has spent the better part of the last decade being a parody of himself, overacting his way through an endless stream of direct-to-video movies seemingly unable to say no to anything offering a paycheck. Mandy offers him the chance to go Full Cage, but finally builds a movie around him that rises to the occasion. It’s an actor and material match made in Heaven. Cage is at a screaming, spitting, bug-eyed 11 here and it still doesn’t feel out of place. That’s how wild Mandy is.
To circle back, there is a plot or at least a basic framework. Cage plays a humble lumberjack named Red living a quiet life with his wife Mandy (Andrea Risenborough, Oblivion) until she is kidnapped by an insane religious cult whose leader hops his followers up on a drug cocktail involving scorpion venom to make his appearances seem like transcendent experiences. When Red strikes out for revenge he comes up against the cult as well as the actual hulking, motorcycle-riding demons in league with them. In your average revenge movie our hero arms himself up with an arsenal of guns, in Mandy Cage arms up with his crossbow and smelts his own double-ended axe.
If I could compare Mandy to anything recently (it feels more like a movie excavated from the 70s) it would be a Nicholas Winding Refn film somewhere between Drive and Valhalla Rising. Cage plays the silent protagonist for the most part, only opening his mouth to yell bad one-liners in agony (don’t mess with his favorite shirt).
Cosmatos has a masterfully assembled treat in Mandy. A fresh take on the revenge genre (which is alive and well this year after the stylish Revenge) turned into a fully immersive, sensory experience that is going to be hard to shake from memory. There is no sequence Cosmatos won’t linger on much longer then expected or turn into existential rants from cultists – and that adds to an experience. This is his ride and all you can do is strap in for it. One of the year’s best movies.