Well, this was just bananas.
I’m tempted to just leave this review at that because I’m not sure if words will really do justice to Mandy, Panos Cosmatos‘ incredibly odd horror action thriller. His follow up to the Beyond The Black Rainbow is a beautifully mad film, and safe to say it’s not for everyone.
Nicolas Cage is notorious for veering from genuinely inspired performances (Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, Bringing Out The Dead) to just plain unhinged ones (need I mention the Wicker Man remake?) but I can’t recall another time where he does both in the same film. In this heightened version of reality though, Cage’s over-the-top, sometimes bizarre performance style fits perfectly – especially when playing the deranged avenging angel role.
Cage plays Red, a logger whose peaceful life is upended when cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) takes a liking to his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), and despatches a demonic biker gang to kidnap her. What follows is a chaotic fever dream of a revenge thriller that is positively drenched with atmosphere.
Andrea Riseborough is an inspired casting choice – she is such a chameleon that I didn’t realise it was her at first. She plays Mandy as slightly ethereal, and not at all the damsel in distress you might imagine – it’s this subversion of expectations that both attracts and enrages the villainous cult leader, and also makes her relationship with Cage believable enough that his demented anguish feels earned.
Linus Roache (Batman’s dad in Batman Begins) makes a beautifully unhinged villain, veering between imperious and petulant – it feels like he has established this cult as a sort of revenge for his failed music career. The entire film feels like a blend of the absurd and the genuinely disturbing, and his character is a great encapsulation of this, a seemingly insecure, pompous cult leader, who is nonetheless still unpredictable, often lashing out in bursts of extreme violence.
Ned Dennehy is excellent as Sand’s chief henchman, his big mournful eyes making his character both sinister and a little melancholy. He feels like the one character who knows this isn’t going to end well, and his every movement is filled with a sense that he knows what’s coming for him. Supporting turns from Richard Brake and genre icon Bill Duke help to flesh out the incredibly strange world that Cosmatos has created.
It’s a ridiculously violent film, with some scenes of stomach churning gore, but there’s an absurdity to it that makes it all a little more palatable. Supposedly villainous characters repeatedly, meekly say “please don’t hurt me” only to be killed in a horrific fashion, it’s also suitably gruesome in places – the demonic biker gang are truly sinister, and for all the gore, the oblique references we get to things happening offscreen are often even more disturbing.
This is also notable for being one of the final scores composed by the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival). His work here is mesmerising, full of synth and bass, matching the weirdness of the film perfectly, both in terms of the tone and the vivid, hallucinogenic cinematography. Cosmatos makes vibrant use of colour and framing to dizzying effect. Some shots are fuzzy and blurred, while others are bright and in sharp focus, making the film feel like a relentlessly intense waking nightmare.
Mandy is an utterly mad film. There are points where I couldn’t work out if it was fantastic or terrible, or both. Personally I loved it – it’s a deranged, schlocky mess that’s nevertheless incredibly cinematic, and manages to leave you completely blindsided by the emotionally affecting ending. Nicolas Cage is unhinged but perfect in his role and the final image is surreal, breathtaking and weirdly moving. Oh, there’s also a chainsaw duel – what else could you ask for?
This exclusive Limited Edition release comes in a rigid slipcase with classic artwork, a lush poster and a 40 page book with new essays by Tim Murray, as well as the standard slew of special features such as deleted / extended scenes and behind the scenes featurettes.