Mandy (2018) Directed by Panos Cosmatos. Starring Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache. In a rural mountaintop community in 1983, a lumberjack and his girlfriend are terrorized by a crazed cult and drawn into a wave of violence and madness.
By day, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) clears out forest land on his little slice of heaven, Shadow Mountain. By night, he and his girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) spend the peaceful evenings watching 1980s horror films and discussing celestial bodies overhead.
Mandy is an artist who creates gorgeous Frank Frazetta-esque fantasy scenes when she isn’t reading paperbacks about evil wizards and mythic heroes. There’s a dreamy, almost childlike quality about her. At one point early in the film, she encounters a recently dead fawn in the forest and the pain evident on Mandy’s pale face is agonizing.
While walking to her job as a general store cashier, she briefly locks eyes with a passenger in a passing van. Unfortunately, that passenger is Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). This failed folk musician is now the leader of Children Of The New Dawn, an allegedly Christian evangelical cult who worships in an extremely creepy church far beyond the mountains. Though he only sees Mandy for a few scant seconds, he immediately fixates on her and can’t live his life without her.
Roache’s performance, by turns petulant and raging, is mesmerizing.
Sand has decided that he himself is some kind of new messiah, and is treated as such by his sycophantic minions. And worse, he’s a touchy-feely close talker.
Jeremiah has his people use a stone horn to summon a trio of semi-demonic bikers who look like they just came from a Cenobite cosplay convention. One is covered head to toe in spiky leather armor, one has a meting baby doll mask for a face, and all three appear to be inhuman. They are asked to help capture Mandy and get paid for this task with jars of hallucinogenic sludge. Just your average night in Crazyville.
The New Dawn and the Hell Bikers invade Red and Mandy’s secluded home in the dark of night. After restraining Red with barbed wire, cult members sting Mandy with a fist-sized wasp they carry around in a jar. The insect’s venom causes freaky hallucinations, slowing everyone down as they move around the captive woman. Jeremiah plays his sole record for Mandy, and the awful song is literally about what a legend Jeremiah Sand is. The cult leader then strips out of his robe and presents himself nude to his potential new recruit.
Mandy laughs at how ridiculous he is, which is both a supremely badass moment on her part and the act which seals her doom. Never giggle at naked psychopaths, folks.
Red is then treated to the sight of his lover being viciously murdered before the Children Of The New Dawn finally depart. After hours of pain and blood, Red escapes his razor-edged restraints. First off, he gets the howling in pain and swilling liquor out of the way. Then he tells a friend what happened and makes his way to a blacksmith, where he forges a lethal hybrid between an axe and a scythe.
If this seems like something out of a fantasy novel where a hero forges a powerful weapon before embarking on a perilous quest, it’s by design.
Mandy is a slasher film with fantasy aesthetics in which the nearly silent killer is the virtuous protagonist, and the undertaking is Lord Of The Rings-level mythic. It’s a 2-hour exploration of the Hero’s Journey, with a droning doom metal soundtrack and practical gore. It’s also rather lovely to look at, with magenta hued skies and neon hellscapes. Cosmatos, writer/director of the equally unsettling “Beyond The Black Rainbow,” is a visionary.
Weapon in hand, the determined Red sets off to track down his quarry. He starts with the subhuman bikers, and he doesn’t always easily come out on top. He gets beaten, captured and thrown around because he’s actually just an ordinary man and not the usual killing machine that revenge films give us. Think about the recent Eli Roth remake “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis.
How did a surgeon with no firearms experience suddenly become a flawless marksman after his wife was killed? Does being angry automatically make you good at stuff? No.
Red has to struggle for his victories, which usually end with the bad guys losing their heads.
Cage, an actor who isn’t known as the model of restraint, reins himself in here. His relatively subdued performance adds to the hypnotic quality of the piece. Sure, here and there he has a typical Cage freak out (such as when he ingests the hallucinogenic paste in the biker lair) moment, but for the most part, he plays it cool.
The area of Shadow Mountain where he and Mandy lived is called Crystal Lake, and Cage mentioned in an interview that Friday The 13th killer Jason Voorhees served as an inspiration for his portrayal of Red. That makes perfect sense since our hero stalks his prey from the shadows before using chainsaws, crossbows, the aforementioned scythe-axe and more to cut them down.
Imagine if Jason was the relatable hero of his own franchise, rather than the antagonist.
In an age of remakes and sequels and throwbacks, Mandy has justifiably been praised as an original genre film. In mood and tone, it’s completely different from everything currently tumbling off the Hollywood assembly line right now. There’s a tiger, a battle involving a six-foot long chainsaw, animated dream sequences, a face-melting acid trip hallucination and landscapes and skies that look more like Mars than Earth.
Did I mention the tiger?
Absolute beautifully evocative insanity from start to finish. It’s a shame the film did not get a wider theatrical run, because I can only imagine how mind-blowing it would look on the big screen. When midnight movie trash is done with this much rich vision and imagination, genre fans win. Experience this one.