The hype for MANDY has been real as it has made the rounds on the festival circuit and I can say this film is impossible to resist as it delivers on every possible level. Writer/director Panos Cosmatos uses a haunting score and vivid, neon color-soaked visuals to entice you into what might be the most intense head trip I have ever experienced in a film. Beginning with the beautiful opening retro music by King Crimson, the film lulls you into a trance-like state as it tells the story of a batshit, raging Nicolas Cage versus a crazy cult. This may be Nicolas Cage’s most outstanding performance. The story is told in three chapters; The Shadow Mountains 1983 A.D., Children of the New Dawn, and Mandy; each introduced with vintage eighties script blazed across the screen in fluorescent color. I’m expecting fans of eighties fantasy like Heavy Metal (1981) to absolutely lose their minds over this film, but you don’t have to be a part of that fandom to appreciate the hypnotizing, psychedelic story and how impressively it is told. Hold on tight kids, we’re about to take a deep dive into MANDY and there might be spoilers ahead.
Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller, who is deeply in love with Mandy Bloom, played unforgettably by Andrea Riseborough. Mandy embodies the typical eighties metal head and spends all of her free time reading fantasy novels written by Lenorr Tor in a nod to Tor Books, real life publishers of science fiction and fantasy. This film feels like what I would imagine a hallucinogenic acid trip feels like, and in my opinion it encourages, and deserves, multiple viewings in order to take in all of the symbolism and eighties fantasy references embedded within it. I won’t reveal how many times I’ve watched the film at this time, but I will say MANDY is worthy of all the hype and I enjoyed the total sensory experience of it even more with each viewing.
Linus Roache, also known for Law & Order: SVU and Vikings, is nearly unrecognizable and captivating as Jeremiah, the long haired, drug tripping leader of the cult Children of the New Dawn. Jeremiah sees Mandy by chance and can’t get her out of his head. In a drug-induced tantrum, he orders his cult members to go on what plays out like a dark, mystical quest to make a deal with a gang known as The Black Skulls, to get them to kidnap Mandy. Rumor has it The Black Skulls consumed a bad batch of LSD and haven’t been right since and are suspected of several gruesome murders.
The surreal meeting between the cult members and The Black Skulls looks like a scene straight out of Hellraiser. I’m not kidding when I say I was terrified and didn’t know if they were creatures or actual people because of the spikes protruding from their bodies and their inhuman masks. The cinematography and execution of this sequence, and especially the feeling of fear and uncertainty it invokes, is horror brilliance. After accepting a “sacrifice”, The Black Skulls kidnap Mandy and deliver her to Mother Marlene, a high-ranking member of Children of the New Dawn, played menacingly by Olwen Fouéré. Mother Marlene drugs Mandy and introduces her to Jeremiah, which leads to an entrancingly strange sequence that is guaranteed to make you feel like you are also on drugs, due to the neon, pulsating colors that saturate every scene. When Mandy refuses his advances, Jeremiah erupts in a fury and kills her in a horrifying manner, tauntingly in front of Red, who has been beaten and tied up with barbed wire. The visual of Nicolas Cage restrained, bloody and screaming as he watches Mandy die is emotional and disturbing, and something that you won’t soon forget. As if that isn’t enough, this is followed by a phenomenal scene of Red literally roaring with rage as he has a breakdown in his bathroom that is among one of the most memorable scenes from the film. MANDY is a descent into total madness and Cosmatos has a way of seducing the viewer into willingly indulging in every second of it.
As the film is interwoven with animated sequences reminiscent of eighties classics like He-Man and She-Ra, MANDY becomes a fantasy novel brought to life. This is the mesmerizing, mind-bending story of lovers torn apart by a crazed, religious cult leader, which results in a stunning sequence where Red forges a battle ax that he names after Mandy. Then he sets out to kill them all in order to exact his revenge. The tiger imagery, as well as Red’s tattoos, symbolize strength and power as Nicolas Cage transforms into a bloody, seething warrior. On his mission, Red has an enthralling encounter with The Chemist, played by Richard Brake (Doom, 31), who tells him he is “the warrior sent forth from the eye of the storm.”
Nicolas Cage’s insane performance along with Cosmatos’ vision, make the kills beautifully brutal and unbelievably gratifying. One of the most thrilling scenes involves what seems like gallons of blood spilling down on Red and pouring into his mouth as he violently kills a gang member. His reaction is to laugh maniacally and ingest a large amount of the gang’s drugs. Watching a bloody, drug-fueled, Nicolas Cage with his massive battle ax gleefully take out his anger on Jesus freaks and gnarly psychos is strangely satisfying. In addition to his mighty battle ax, this film has Nicolas Cage wielding a crossbow and a chainsaw and you even get to see him light a cigarette off of a guy’s burning, decapitated head, something I didn’t know I needed in my life. I know some people have compared Cosmatos’ work to other filmmakers, but in my mind I just can’t do that. I almost think he deserves his own subgenre of horror. With hypnotic red and purple drenched cinematography, animated fantasy sequences, and the most intense Nicolas Cage performance in history, MANDY is fucking incredible.