"Mandy" Review: A Vision Both Strange and Eternal

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It has been seven years since filmmaker Panos Cosmanos burst onto the scene with the cult sci-fi film Beyond the Black Rainbow, and many have wondered if and how the writer-director could top Rainbow’s ramped-up hallucinogenic visuals.  Fans of the director now have their answer, as Cosmanos has returned with Mandy, an acid-drenched revenge thriller unlike anything released in theaters this year. 

Lumberjack, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage), lives a quiet life in the forests of the Shadow Mountains alongside the love of his life, the titular artist Mandy (Andrea Riseborough).  However the serenity of the forest is disrupted by the arrival of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a failed folk singer- turned-cult leader and his group of God-loving hippies. After a passing encounter on a desolate logging road, Sand decides that Mandy must join his group. Tragedy eventually ensues and leads Red and his home-forged battle axe into the night seeking revenge at any cost.  

Cosmanos takes this simple plot and drowns it in gallons of blood and LSD.  Mandy’s forest setting is constantly punctuated by beams of Giallo-influenced color, animated hallucinations, and an ever-present heavy metal-influenced score composed by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. The film contains homages to midnight films of the past, but these blend seamlessly into Cosmanos’ world and never feel tired or cliche.  It takes a special film to do that in a nostalgia-dominated media landscape, and Cosmanos has shown that a throwback film doesn’t need to consist of yelling “HEY REMEMBER THIS?” at its viewers.  

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Of course, the film isn’t all nostalgia, and provides a number of original set-pieces that must be seen to be believed.  Otherworldly S&M bikers are summoned via ocarina, and grown men duel with chainsaws under the lights of a mining quarry.  These (and other) insane sequences aren’t for everyone, but they certainly draw the viewer into Mandy’s unique vision. It takes a total commitment to the craft to pull things like this off without irony, and the film succeeds where other camp-focused features may fail. 

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This all-in feeling is buttressed by the film’s impressive cast, many of whom turn in milestone performances in their respective careers. Nicolas Cage’s monolithic filmography has been varied to such a degree that the internet has designed a four-point matrix on which to graph his performances.  This, however, is a role no one else could pull off, and Cage’s performance as Red transcends the points on the aforementioned Cage matrix.  Red’s transition from loving partner to blood-soaked death machine requires just about every emotion to come through on screen, and Cage nails every beat required of him.  The viewer really feels Red’s emotional arc, and when Cage engages in one of his legendary on-screen freak-outs, the moment is more than earned.  This is a performance for the ages, and should be seen as a return to form by one of Hollywood’s finest. 

While most of the press surrounding the film’s post-Sundance premiere has focused on Cage, Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache deserve equal amounts of praise.  Riseborough’s portrayal of Mandy is wonderful, and Roache’s turn as the villainous Sand should be seen as a breakout moment in his career. A confrontation between the two is one of the film’s highlights and provides a clear piece of social commentary in the age of #metoo.  Expect to see both actors doing big things in the future.

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All of this praise is certainly warranted, but the film is not without some issues. The filmmaker’s editing style is a bit of a double-edged sword, as it was in Rainbow.  The pivotal shift in tone occurs about halfway through Mandy’s 2-hour run time.  This gives the viewer plenty of time to invest in Red’s eventual rampage, but the film does drag a bit.  Those expecting a pace similar to other action-oriented films may find the glacial pace of Mandy’s first half off-putting, but it’s hard to say whether the film’s tender first half could be shortened. 

Nontheless, Mandy is a strong addition to Cosmano’s filmography, and fans of genre-filmmaking looking for an unforgettable experience should strongly consider giving Cosmanos’ latest a view.  Mandy is showing in a limited run of theaters and is available on VOD.  

Rating: B+