There is a moment in Mandy where a bloody Nicolas Cage takes a bottle of vodka, drinks it straight and screams at the top of his lungs for a good solid minute. Half of the audience will laugh (understandably) while the other half will cringe at the sight of his pain. Panos Cosmatos’ second feature (which is also on VOD) is one that will succeed greatly at any midnight screening for years to come. Part revenge tale, part grindhouse and all around dream like adventure, the film finds a way to dig into deep nightmares while laying out a timeless love story. Yes, Nicolas Cage does drugs off a broken piece of glass and yes he shouts his lines causing intense hysterical moments, but what Mandy so precisely displays is Cage unleashed is amazing but Cage restrained can be just as wonderful.
Cosmatos doesn’t wait to bring us into his dreamworld. The grainy 16mm visuals are followed by title cards stating “1983 A.D” inviting us back to a time where films such as ‘Phantasm 2’ and ‘Hellraiser’ were all the talk at the weekly ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ table. Accompanying the shades of neon red and purple is the late Johan Johansson’s hallucinatory score that mixes 80’s synthesizer with heavy metal. Heavy metal carries throughout Cage’s character Red Miller a quiet man, but one that we all know will eventually snap just like a Black Sabbath song. Miller is a logger and lives with his fantasy book loving wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). They live a simple life coming home each night to discuss the cosmos and eat tv dinners. All seems well until Mandy catches the eye of backwoods cult leader Jerimiah Sand (a disturbing Jim Roache). Sand instantly feels a great power connection to Mandy and does what any cult leader would do, summons biker demons to go fetch her.
Mandy however is not like Jerimiah’s other female victims. She sees right through it all and refuses any promises offered to her by Jerimiah. Andrea Riseborough is a joy to watch with her wide eyes and soft spoken tone giving the film a sense of peace. Cosmatos does not allow her to be a damsel in distress as she literally laughs in the face of evil. While the final chapter gives Cage the spotlight it should never be ignored that Riseborough’s performance is always illuminating every move the film makes.
The film is divided into three chapters and all blend into one another without issue that it becomes apparent how easily this film could fall apart. The pacing is not the issue as much as it is the way it is chosen to be broken apart. Cosmatos takes his time with the first two chapters even if the third is probably his favorite. This is where Cage gets to break free and the film leads to a satisfying ending, but one that makes you want to go back to the beginning. Nevertheless people came to see maniac Cage and boy do they get what they want. There will always be (for better or worse) an aura of never taking Cage too seriously. This is felt when he enters a chainsaw battle and even more so when an enemy’s blood pours out into his mouth nearly drowning him. What is sometimes forgotten though is the effort Cage puts in even to his most outlandish roles. He gives all he can for our benefit and while Mandy features some remarkable kills Cage is able to put emotion into each one reminding us why he is on this revenge path. Cosmatos gave us a road trip revenge tale, but he has also done what many have failed to do; find a safe place for Cage’s insanity.
Director: Panos Cosmatos