You’ve seen Nicolas Cage go crazy. You’ve seen movies about a man who wreaks blood-soaked vengeance on evil men. And perhaps you’ve seen psychedelic, post-apocalyptic hellscapes populated exclusively by maniacal cult members and horrific demonic bikers.
But not all at once. And not like this. The certifiably insane genre concoction known as Mandy takes a few elements that genre fans know exceedingly well by now — and then tosses them into a setting so weirdly compelling and viscerally intense that you’ll start to feel like you’ve fallen into a Hieronymus Bosch painting and your only guide through the madness, is a wild-eyed, blood-drenched Nicolas Cage.
Most definitely a film of two distinct (yet equally fascinating) moods, tones, and sensibilities, Mandy opens in an alternate version of 1983, and it’s not a pleasant one. Suffice to say that while Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) enjoy a quietly blissful life tucked away in a cozy cabin in the Pacific Northwest (the rest of the world could be a disaster zone for all we know). For Red and Mandy, things are pretty sweet — simply because they have each other. For the moment, that is.
Director Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) and his co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn are in no big hurry to get to the incidents that ultimately lead to all sorts of hellacious carnage, and while a “slow start” would act as a stumbling block to many horror stories, in this case, the longer fuse is very welcome. We get to know Red and Mandy’s relationship in all sorts of sweet and personal ways, which helps build suspense as well as a legitimate rooting interest. In order for the second half of the movie to work, we have to get into Red’s mindset, at least a little, and that’s where character development, world building, and off-kilter atmosphere pay off in all sorts of grimly interesting ways.
“Fever dream” is a term you’ll hear a lot when discussing this movie, and it happens to be one of the most grimly alluring and consistently interesting “fever dream” movies in recent memory. Which is to say: this movie gets super weird sometimes, but it still manages to maintain a forward momentum and narrative logic that keeps one from simply tuning out. (Which sometimes happens when a flick is simply too weird for its own good.) From the production design (which descends from calm and inviting to the various levels of hell with alarming effectiveness) to Johann Johannsson‘s awesome musical score, there’s a whole lot of talent on display behind the camera.
Plus there’s not a weak performance to be found: Linus Roache is truly imposing, disturbing, and plain ol’ freaky as the cult leader, Andrea Riseborough provides the film’s heart and soul with a lovely, tragic, and (yes) kinda weird performance, the great Bill Duke shows up for a few key moments, and Nicolas Cage remains an absolute force of nature. Love the guy or not (I’m definitely a fan) there’s no denying he works his ass off, and holy crap is he put through ten types of hell in this particular movie.
If you want a bizarre and blistering revenge story set in a uniquely ominous world, Mandy has a lot to offer. If your tastes lean towards genre flicks like Hellraiser, The Wicker Man, and Race with the Devil, there’s very little chance you won’t dig this movie in a big way. And if you’re hoping for a big fat amalgamation of action, horror, pitch black comedy, bittersweet romance, and that wonderfully sweet smell of sheer unpredictability, hell, Mandy might just be your new favorite movie of the year.