Every once in a while, a film will come along that can render audiences speechless. Thank god we have filmmakers like Panos Cosmatos in the world.
It’s 1983. The Shadow Mountains attract their fair share of characters and danger, but for Red (Nicolas Cage, operating at peak ‘Nicolas Cage’ levels) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), it’s a peaceful life in isolation of the woods. However, after Mandy passes by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) one day while walking among the trees, their loving and calm home life comes to an end. Sand and his cult of ‘Jesus Freaks’ (who are all tripping on badly cut LSD) take Mandy hostage. Once she is brutally sacrificed by the cult, Red, stranded, alone and full of rage, leads a one-man army against the drug-fueled psychopaths on a bloody and surreal revenge mission.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on how crazy and bizarre Mandy gets. Yes, the writing was on the wall from the moment production started: cast Nicolas Cage in a film helmed by a notoriously extravagant director (Cosmatos’ previous feature, Beyond the Black Rainbow is, at least visually, just as inventive and bonkers) and let the Cage craziness do the rest. But Cage’s infamous outbursts and crazy acting style are utilised sparingly, and when they are, it’s only to service the plot, and rarely played for laughs.
To briefly list some of the absolutely insane set pieces seen throughout the film: a chainsaw fight, a cigarette being lit on a severed head, Cage forging an axe weapon from scratch. What’s more impressive than this outright shocking imagery is the way the imagery itself is framed. Cosmatos’ use of colours, framing and lighting make each frame seem as if it’s a Black Sabbath album cover.
It’s no secret at all that the 1980s play a large part in influencing Mandy. Yet unlike similar nostalgia trips such as Stranger Things and Maniac, the era is used as anything but a gimmick. It’s purely coincidental, and everything it does with this time period is wholly unique, captivating, and certainly not done before. The nice little touch of post-production grain on the image isn’t just an aesthetic to set you back in time; it’s a nightmarish, slightly unreal tonal choice.
Mandy is beautiful, shocking, hilarious and one of the most singular films you’re likely to see all year. Working both ironically and in earnest, Cage and Cosmatos have crafted a potential cult classic, a grimy, spectacular dive into B-movie excess.