Visceral, surreal and outrageously over-the-top revenge horror movie with Nicolas Cage at his most, well, Nicolas Cage.
I always appreciate a film that shows me something different, and Mandy is the sort of unique movie experience that’s almost impossible to properly convey in a review. You can get some idea from the way its director Panos Cosmatos described it as a “heavy metal album cover from the 1970s”. While this is true, it might also fool one into thinking that the movie is some sort of loud, frenetic, wall-to-wall action beast, whereas in fact Mandy is quite meditative and trippy, especially in the first slow-burn half. It’s definitely untraditional in the way it’s structured and paced either as a horror film or a revenge story, almost as if there were two movies rolled into one.
The story is as simple as it gets. Cage plays Red, a logger who lives in a remote cabin with his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), a gentle soul with the eyelash-less face of a medieval saint, a collection of heavy metal T-shirts, and a talent for fantasy drawings. The two are blissfully happy together, but the doomy electronic score and long dreamlike scenes, full of quiet foreboding and bathed in sinister red and maroon, pretty much tell you to expect the worst.
Sure enough, one day in the woods Mandy catches the eye of a sadistic cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), who conjures up a demonic biker gang with a taste for LSD in order to kidnap her. But Mandy defies Sand (in a way that oddly echoes the famous Margaret Atwood quote about men’s fears), and in the end Red is forced to watch on helplessly as the love of his life is killed right before his eyes. Burnt out by grief, there’s nothing else for Red to do but take revenge on those who destroyed his life and stupidly left him alive.
What follows is a deranged acid trip into blood-soaked, eye-for-an-eye vengeance featuring a home-made axe, a tiger, a few nightmarish animated sequences, and a chainsaw duel. As you would expect, this movie is a perfect vehicle for Nicolas Cage’s peculiar talents, since no one does deranged, disturbed and plain weird quite like Cage. Andrea Riseborough meanwhile is a striking and haunting presence, and it was refreshing to see Mandy receive a lot more attention and screen time than your average murdered lover/wife in a revenge movie.
Mandy is essentially a one-note exercise in style, and while one can admire its otherworldly fever-dream vision it’s also fair to question whether a story this simple really required two hours to tell. But luckily I have a massive soft spot for the macabre and the unusual, so I didn’t mind the indulgent running time too much. This is the kind of film I wish I could have watched in the darkness of the cinema, where you can really give yourself over to the visual experience, the ambient score interlaced with hardcore riffs, and enjoy the audience reaction to Cage’s fireworks, even if some of them were bound to provoke unintended laughter.