★★★★ out of ★★★★★
A strange and visionary tale of strange visions and a chainsaw fight. Directed by Panos Cosmatos
There are those that openly embrace the cosmic benefits of psychedelic drugs and all the conscious pathways that they open. In turn, there are those that rebuke these infinite blessings and these weird and off-putting trips. And most of us? Well, we’re too damn scared to wander in to these dark planetary recess of the human mind. Thankfully, visionary Director, Panos Cosmatos has us all covered.
In his latest film, Mandy, Cosmatos turns everything on. All the switches are flipped. All the edits are made — backwards, forwards, sideways, and up and down. Strange sounds, weird colors, lens flairs, animation, disturbing characters from a darker past (or future), and a gaggle of sadistic Jesus freaks. Cosmatos leaves no stone unturned in his quest to differentiate Mandy from all other horror films, or even film in general. There’s touches of David Lynch, dustings of Kubrik, and even a handful of Jodorowsky thrown in for good measure. Which is not to say Cosmatos is derivative, oh no, this vision is his, and solely his.
At its core Mandy is a revenge film. Frankly it’s no more complicated than that. Revenge. Pure and simple. It’s protagonists Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) live a quiet and mundane life in a rural and mountainous setting. Red is a logger and Mandy is a deft stoner artist. They deeply enjoy each other’s company and have settled in to 1980s rural America. One day on her way home from work Mandy encounters the deeply wacked-out LSD freakbeat cult, Children of the New Dawn. The leader of this other-worldly cult, Jeremiah Sand, becomes obsessed with her looks and groovy aura. He orders his perverted clan to seek her out and bring Mandy to him.
The Children of the New Dawn teams up with a space alien (?) crew of demonic bikers known only as the Black Skulls. Bonded together by their mutual love of highly potent and evolved forms of LSD, they’re able to abduct Mandy. The Children of the New Dawn, who are apparently also burgeoning folk artists, give Mandy a taste of their way-out sounds. However, Mandy’s having none of their drug-induced shenanigans or their poorly conceived folk beats. Jerimah Sand is left sad and crest-fallen and opts to set Mandy on fire right in front of her true love, Red Miller.
Red, in classic Nicholas Cage fashion, flies in to a full tilt range of acting emotions. Trying to dominate an entire bottle of vodka, Cage cries, laughs, screams, and in a possible nod to Bad Lieutenant, whimpers and moans for the better part of ten minutes. This is clearly Cage’s sweet spot — his go to move — just lay it all out on the table and hope that something sticks. It’s simultaneously intriguing, funny, and unnerving. You get the entire spectrum of acing in a single scene and it’s wonderful and exciting. As soon as Red is done exploring his emotional palette, he heads off for a bundle of beheadings, stabbings, and a good old fashioned church burning.
The last hour is a slow and methodical series of revenge scenes — each one more grisly than the last. They’re horrifying, strange, and punctuated by peculiar vignettes of an animated version of Mandy. In the same way that the hero-protagonist in Kung Fu films scrupulously hunts down their family’s killers, Cosmatos plows identical fields. However, Cosmatos employs LSD, gnarly space alien bikers, off-putting lens flares, and a hyper-maniacal Nicholas Cage. While the structure isn’t unique, the visuals certainly are.
The Cage and Cosmatos team-up seems like it was really meant to be. In an unnatural and odd way this is a partnership that was pre-ordained. Cosmatos tries out every last film trick and technique and Cage lays all of his proneness for everyone to not just see, but really experience. It would be easy to portray this smorgasbord of film and acting as trickery and unfocused laziness, but this clump of psychedelic happenings is a thoughtful and managed affair. It’s hard to believe that brutish drug intake and cosmic adventures can actually be managed, but Cosmatos makes it all happen in a beautiful and colorful spectacle.
Mandy is not rated, but we’re going with an NC-17. It is currently available for streaming on Amazon and Shudder