MANDY Review: A Fable Written in Blood-Splatter and Acid
In the eight years since his debut film Beyond the Black Rainbow, an entrancing and seemingly narrativeless (not that it needs one) distillation of ‘80s Cronenbergian sci-fi atmosphere, writer/director Panos Cosmatos has managed something miraculous and inexplicable. Somehow he has taken the all of his specific influences and interests on full display in that film and moved them simultaneously in opposite directions along the same axis; his presentation, style, pacing becoming even more expressionistic and esoteric while grafting them onto a more readily accessible, simpler, and thus more carnally potent revenge story. The alchemy generated by this impossible mixture congeals itself into one of the wildest and hypnotic experiences to be had in years.
Beginning in a Pacific Northwest wood draped in deep reds and purple haze and seemingly ending on some far-flung landscape straight out of the covers of the paperback fantasy novels the eponymous Mandy reads, we find Red (Nicolas Cage) living an idyllic life in seclusion with his wife Mandy (a vulnerably haunted and captivating Andrea Riseborough). The sound of churning, distorted electric guitar heralds the arrival of the big bad wolf in Jeremiah Sands (Linus Roache) and his Jesus freak sex cult followers. Jeremiah sees Mandy and decides he must have her. One thing leads to another, and the cult members kill Mandy in front of Red, leaving him for dead.
Those who’ve seen a movie before can guess where the film goes from there (those who haven’t, welcome, boy did you pick a helluva place to start) and Cage’s presence alone promises the expected freakout violence to come from that turn of events. Mandy’s first half will try the patience of those here only for whatever bugnuts theatrics they’ve heard the notorious actor has cooked up (and boy are they NUTS) as it establishes its languid, drugged-out haze of an atmosphere and dream-logic progression. Things escalate once the cult apprehends Mandy, employing elaborately trippy and disturbing digital effects on top of its gonzo color scheme to make the viewer suspect they were slipped something in their popcorn. You might understandably expect to get a solid trip by licking whatever screen the film is projected on.
Panos Cosmatos &
I used the phrase dream-logic to describe Mandy’s construction, and while accurate, the story functions closer to moralistic fable as told by H.P. Lovecraft. In adherence to the age-old wisdom that nightmares are dreams too, Mandy’s death signals a rapid descent into hell for Red. Motivated by the gaping psychic trauma, Red gears up to to hunt down his assailants and the demon bikers they summoned. Have I not mentioned the demon bikers yet? The ones that looked like they wandered off the set of Hellraiser because it wasn’t hardcore enough? Yeah, this movie is weird.
Infamous for his manic explosions of emotion, Cage is given the proper outlet for his unique performance style, letting Red’s deepest grief motivate the once caring, intimate partner to insane, violent rage. The trademarks are all here - the bug-eyes, shrieking, shouting, outsized rage - but years have passed since they were last employed to such satisfaction. Cosmatos lets him unleash all manner of gooey carnage, from impalement to slashed throats to squeezed body parts, using all manner of instruments, including the axe he forges specifically for his gruesome task.
As evident as the authorial stamp already is, Mandy feels even more deeply personal in its emotional texture. Mixing together John Carpenter and David Cronenberg and low rent video store splatter films, Cosmatos cobbles together all of these inspirations into what amounts to a direct outpouring of grief and sorrow, an sympathetically sad, angry howl into the void. The late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score wonderfully layers this texture into the sound of the film, creating a wall-to-wall barrage of growling guitar and rumbling drones that notably only ends once the credits begin to roll. It’s a strangely somber end to an mind-altering, enthusiastically crazy film, one whose climax involves an actual chainsaw duel, but it sells the notion home that grief is what happens when the abyss finally touches us back.
Mandy is currently playing in select theaters and is available to rent on VOD. You should see it on the biggest screen possible.