Italian-Canadian film director Panos Cosmatos waited awhile before following up his debut feature, Beyond the Black Rainbow. Based on the buzz his latest release, Mandy, generated at the Sundance Film Festival, it was worth the wait. Considered a mix of surrealist horror and action, Mandy has steadily built anticipation based on its trailers and word-of-mouth. On September 14, it finally became available on streaming services along with a limited theatrical release. Now does 2018 have another classic, like Hereditary? Or is Mandy just an exercise in hype?
Set in 1983, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) lives in the isolated wilderness of the Shadow Mountains with his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). This idyllic existence is soon shattered when Mandy has a chance encounter with cult leader Jeremiah Sands and his followers. Sands’ obsession with Mandy ends with a vicious and tragic assault on Miller’s home. Now with nothing left to lose, Red Miller seeks out bloody vengeance against Sand’s depraved cultists.
Mandy is Less a Story, Than an Experience
First and foremost, the above synopsis does not do Mandy justice. Film-goers looking for a straightforward revenge film, a la Death Wish, may be disappointed. Yes, Cosmatos appropriates the basic narrative of the revenge film. There is a brutal act of violence that sets Red Miller on a path of vengeance. Yet Mandy is not a movie driven by story. Rather Cosmatos has crafted a film that is better described as an experience.
Mandy is an absolutely distinct visual movie experience.
Mandy is an absolutely distinct visual movie experience. Cosmatos saturates his revenge thriller in dreamy red and blue tints. As a result, the movie feels like a psychedelic trip or hazy dream. Like the best surrealist movies, Mandy is more like a nightmare than a coherent story concerned with hitting specific plot points. While there is no sense of urgency to the two-hour film, it’s far from boring or dull. Quite the opposite, Mandy is engrossing, even in its more reflective moments. This is a movie about about emotions that hypnotizes you with its visual style.
Cosmatos Brings Back the Midnight Movie
Above all else, Mandy feels like the perfect midnight movie. From its dreamy and psychedelic atmosphere to its punctuated moments of violence, Cosmatos has crafted a grindhouse film vibe. Over the two-hour runtime, Mandy takes its time building to its over-the-top bloodletting. In fact, Mandy does not have as much as violence as some reviews suggest. But when those violent moments happen they feel appropriately shocking. Furthermore, Cosmatos drenches each of these scenes in buckets of blood and practical effects.
…Cosmatos drenches each of these scenes in buckets of blood and practical effects.
As for its villains, Jeremiah Sand and his followers are among the more distinct characterizations of cultists committed to film. They are are an appropriate mix of bizarre and menacing, channeling a Manson Family vibe. Without giving away too much, Sand’s ‘demonic monsters also give Mandy another distinct visual feeling. Cosmatos uses these mysterious characters sparingly, also opting to keep them largely in the shadows. Like the rest of the movie, Cosmatos never makes it clear who or what these characters represent, but damn if it all doesn’t somehow work.
Wildly Fun Performances Fitting of a Grindhouse Film
Today, audiences are more likely to associate Nicholas Cage with Internet memes. In the years following the ill-fated Wicker Man remake, Cage has become somewhat of a punchline. It’s easy to forget that Cage is a talented actor whose delivered some impressive performances (Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation). In Mandy, Cosmatos lets Nicholas Cage go ‘full Cage’ Most importantly, Cosmatos’ story requires Nicolas Cage to go ‘Full Cage” to fully achieve its midnight movie feel. And Cage obliges, turning in a fantastic wild-eyed performance. He is all emotion, channeling rage and loss in equal measures. It’s an unhinged performance that is much more fitting of the material, unlike Cage’s role in the earlier 2018 release, Mom and Dad.
Veteran character actor Bill Duke also shows up for a brief role. But in those five minutes or so, Duke reminds filmgoers just how underrated he can be in movies. Duke turns in a performance that is both weary and ominous. As good as Cage is in Mandy, Linus Roache may be the unsung hero with his role as cult leader, Jeremiah Sand. He gives a bizarre, transfixing performance that reminds us how cultists can exert such influence. Simply put, Roache mesmerizes whenever he is on screen. It’s an impressive feat to stand out in a movie that is so memorably bizarre.
Mandy Is Another Winner for the Genre in 2018
Ultimately, Mandy is a lot of things. It’s a surreal and trippy movie that evokes the best characteristics of midnight movies. For Nicolas Cage, it’s a return-to-form that could signal a comeback. For horror fans, we have yet another critically well-received movie that shows how creative and distinct the genre can be with the right talent involved. Mandy is a psychedelic-fuelled nightmare that more than lives up to its advanced hype.
THE PROFESSOR’ FINAL GRADE: A