Nicolas Cage. The man just screams crazy. Whether it’s his eclectic film performances or completely out there lifestyle, you’re always in for something special when this thespian takes to a new project. But Mandy, well Mandy, is something else indeed. We’re talking about a whole new level of crazy, an acid trip of cinema….and for serious film fans it’s a real treat.
In the Pacific Northwest in 1983, outsiders Red Miller and Mandy Bloom lead a loving and peaceful existence. When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand, Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with deadly fire.
The passion project of cinema impressionist Panos Cosmatos (Beyond The Black Rainbow), Panos has a style all his own, and his desire for something that is truly original results in Mandy. As a director, it’s clear that Cosmatos was both in total control of what he wanted, along with being extremely flexible to the performances of his actors around him. The visuals and tone of this monolithic beast of a movie were very much his, but with characters that are as wildly strange and exotic as Nicolas Cage’s Red Miller, Andrea Riseborough’s Mandy Green and Linus Roache’s Jeremiah Sand, it’s clear that there was a partnership between the director and his cast.
As an offering of unfiltered expression to the filmmaking style of the 1980s, Mandy really stacks up. With its use of neon light, tight crash zoom filmmaking, the juxtaposition of full frame wide angles and tight in extreme close-ups, an eerie mix of shadow and light that is complimented by everything from smoke to dust to steam and a dark and a moody synthesized score composed by the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson, Mandy makes for one hell of a cinematic experience. Dream-like and nightmarish in equal parts, it’s as if Cosmatos’ creation was birthed from some strange, dark corner of the film industry, where convention and commercialism has been banished in favour of utter creative expression.
The resulting picture leaves an imprint on your mind of beautifully rendered surrealist imagery that is bathed in values of red, green, orange, yellow, teal, cyan and purple and where shadows come to life. Through the lens of cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, Mandy’s images take on the masculine, wrath of the gods paintings of the likes of Frank Frazetta, with added acid applied to amp up the hallucinogenic effect on the audience as Cage’s berserker hero does battle with a horde of deranged, fetishist freaks against a backdrop that is slowly morphing from the Shadow Mountains into some future set planetary environment ripped from the front cover of a forgotten science-fiction novel. All of it evokes some kind of teenage power fantasy come to life, and through Cosmatos’ vision and direction it is an utter unique experience.
Taking the central lead is film legend, and the epitome of crazy cool, Nicolas Cage. As Red Miller, a recovering alcoholic lumberjack we get Cage at his most unhinged as he goes on a journey of utter hell and violent resurrection to avenge the women he loves. As a performer, Cage is in love with the form of acting and his ability for self expression has no limits. All of it finds a place of absolute maddening genius here, and this is a savage theatrical showcase played at max volume. Going from A to Z and then back again, Cage’s journey as Red is an insane trip through a barbaric Dante’s Inferno of Cosmatos’ creation. Cage’s commitment to the role is such that you find yourself watching a character that is felt rather than being performed. Red feels so much more realer than just a piece of cinema come to life and his descent down this crazy path of vengeance really takes you for a trip.
Standing next to Red is Andrea Riseborough as Mandy, the love of this broken man’s life who gives him meaning and significance in his tortured world. An almost ethereal creature, watching Riseborough’s performance you feel that there is something different about Mandy, like maybe she has come from some other place and has some sort of alien or other-worldly knowledge that the other’s do not. While Mandy’s moments with Red are fleeting, you do feel the pull of their shared attraction and romance, especially the calming influence that she has over Red. Riseborough, like Cage, is absolutely committed to the film and this commitment builds a character and a performance that you can’t look away from.
While Cage and Riseborough provide the hero and love of this film, it’s Linus Roache’s Jeremiah Sand who provides the film with it’s seething evil. A haunting and decrepit cult leader, with an equally freakish group of followers, Sand is a fiendish villain who has a Manson-like draw over his followers and his otherworldly belief in his divine power definitely frightens you. After his infatuation for Mandy is not returned to him, he sacrifices her in the most foul way and this sends Red over-the-edge. Linus Roache makes for a perfect monster here, and he definitely gets under-your-skin with his creepy and uncomfortable performance and gives Cage a run for his money in terms of sheer insanity.
Be forewarned that it’s probably best that you have a strong stomach for Mandy, because this is one film that doesn’t scrimp on the gore. Fed by his love for 80s cinema, Panos really goes for it with Red’s berseker rage and his weapon of choice turns out to be a demonic battle axe ripped from the visions of every death metal fans wildest dream. And with it, Cage slays! The gore level runs high as he carves his way through the demonic bikers set upon him by Sand with the frenzied energy of a Bruce Lee-inspired superhero. But just as you though it was getting crazy, Cosmatos goes even crazier as he unleashes a insane feat of chainsaw gladiatorial carnage. That’s right, I’m not joking, THERE’S A CHAINSAW DUEL IN THIS MOVIE! I’ve never seen anything like it before and it makes for the most psychotic fight sequence I’ve ever seen on screen.
While Mandy is Cosmatos’ vision through and through it would not have been possible without the eye of cinematographer Benjamin Loeb or the music of the late great Jóhann Jóhannsson. In terms of visual splendour, Mandy has some of the most exuberant and wild compositions I’ve ever seen in cinema, and with it’s full colour spectrum lighting set-ups the hallucinogenic LSD trip of this narrative really comes to life. This film is like a piece of artwork come to life, moving at speed and not stopping for a moment, and it’s the frenzied genius of that makes it all possible. Critical to Mandy’s success is also the hypnotic, meditative and frenzied score of composer Jóhann Jóhannsson which lashes out with it’s synthesized rifts and takes hold of your senses. Both the visuals and the music mold together in perfect unisum and the result is an extraordinary cinematic expression.
Mandy is far and away the craziest piece of cinema I’ve ever witnessed. It’s a gnarly sci-fi, fantasy, fairy tale, horror, action head trip concoction that has been thrown in a blender with a good pouring of acid, and a slather of death metal, and the resulting cocktail is something that goes beyond the idea of originality. Movies like this is few and far between and it is a cinematic journey that true film fans must allow themselves to witness. Watch it and be mesmerized!
Mandy is set to premiere on Wednesday 29 May at 8.00pm on SKY MOVIES ACTION.
Image: SKY TV