Mandy | Review
Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough are hardly what you’d call natural screen bedfellows. She’s the rising star with a talent for ethereal nuance; he’s the rampant Yank with innumerable viral videos devoted to his outrageous acting style. Yet, in the sophomore feature of Italian-Canadian filmmaker Panos Cosmatos, they kind of click. Indeed, to dismiss Mandy as the latest Cage rampage feels a tad unfair, even if it does feature an instantly iconic, bathroom-based, mourning scene. To riff on Glenn Close in The Wife, this is much more – visually – interesting than that.
Filmed in vintage high grain and saturated brilliantly by cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, Mandy exists in a psychedelic sub genre of its own hallucinatory invention. It is the sort of film that makes you suspect that the diegetic drugs on set may not actually have been props. Even in the film’s second half, a gory, bonkers, laugh-out-loud revenge flick, Cosmatos shoots his action with impressive stylistic verve. A sequence in which Cage is depicted forging himself a gleaming battle axe, for instance, is followed by the brief, beguiling image of an abstracted red tree. His first kills, meanwhile, conclude with a rather wonderful smattering of affecting animation. Imagine Mom and Dad remade by Tom Ford and your there-ish.
As was Cosmatos’ inaugural feature, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Mandy is set in a new age dynamic 1983. Cage plays Red, a lumberjack living his best life in a secluded cabin with his artist girlfriend Mandy (Riseborough), watching films and debating their favourite planets: ‘Yeah, Saturn’s pretty cool’. Hints of their damaged pasts – Mandy’s father made her friends kill baby sparrows when they were children – are nothing on the trauma to come, which begins when Mandy is spotted by Charles Manson inspired cult leader Jeremiah Sand, performed by a tremendously disquieting Linus Roach. Like Manson, Sand is a failed musician whose violent tendencies are made all the more deadly by his belief that he has a God-given right to do exactly as he pleases: ‘he graced me with his light’.
Instantly obsessed with Mandy, Sand recruits a demonic, blood-thirsty biker gang – known as the Black Skulls and summoned by blowing a note through a mystic pebble – to bring her to him and his Children of the New Dawn. Once there, Mandy is drugged up with potent LSD and jabbed with the sting of a strange, black scorpionic entity. The scene that follows, all blues and purples, sonorously vibrant and optically trippy, is the best of the film: a marvellously subversive twist on conventional kidnap confrontations that concludes with Riseborough viciously stealing the upper hand from her predatory captor. Hers is a short lived victory but this cult should have known better than to mess with Cage.
No matter how utterly insane Mandy swings, Cosmatos’ commitment to ensuring that it remains a consistently phenomenal cinematic experience is breathtaking. Here is a film that pushes boundaries from metallic start to mind-boggling finish. Each frame fruits a kaleidoscopic breadth of psychotropic colouring, enlivening a series of outstanding design constructs and unfailingly memorable set pieces. Watch in awe as Cage lights a cigarette midway through the film by stealing flames from the burning head of a villain that he has only just decapitated, mere moments after he kicked the corpse into a bonfire. Bizarre, no?
Above it all is the final film score of Jóhann Jóhannsson, a sorely missed talent, going out in style. A handful of earlier features are nodded to in the script and visuals of Mandy but there’s no question that this is a singularly unique exercise in visionary filmmaking.