Applying traditional binary labels like good/bad or like/dislike to a film such as Mandy implies that Mandy is a traditional film. It is not. Mandy is a work of singular artistic experience that exists beyond the boundaries of the binary. Good/bad or like/dislike are immaterial and, frankly, meaningless. Regardless your feelings on the film itself, whether you ascend to sublime joy or descend to extreme hatred, the experience of watching the film is one that should be taken by any and all necessary means.
Mandy exists in open defiance of either rules or expectations, leading audiences down a path of cinema at its most extreme. It is one of those generational boundary pushers that serves as a statement of what film could be. Maybe it won’t change the medium much—the simple fact is that film could not handle being changed as much as Mandy suggests it might be—but in a decade, perhaps two, some young upstart director will find success with their wild indie, and in interviews they will espouse the virtues of Mandy and say things like “that was the first time I knew what I wanted to be.”
Director Panos Cosmatos does here what so many have tried and failed to accomplish in the last several decades of film: the pure fusion of art house and grindhouse into a single cinematic statement, keeping both schools in equal balance in a kind of yin and yang of filmic lunacy. Far beyond the realm of most revenge thrillers, Mandy is deliciously bizarre trip into visceral insanity fueled by the nightmarish, psychedelic vision of Cosmatos. A visually stunning work of pulse pounding horror, Mandy plumbs the Stygian depths of the human psyche and is, at times, profoundly off-putting, 1000% entrancing, and, above all else, completely surreal.
Nicolas Cage stars as Red Miller, a hardworking lumberjack who lives in a secluded cabin with the love of his life, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Their quaint and loving existence is shattered when a bizarre cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), along with a group of biker demons, brutally murders Mandy before Red’s eyes. Left for dead, Red escapes and embarks on a blood-soaked journey of righteous vengeance.
Normally, Cage is the craziest cog in a film’s machines. Here—though delivering one of his most batshit performances in a lifetime of batshit performances—he feels almost subdued. At the very least, he’s right at home. This is Cage at his most pure, though finally he has a film that serves to enhance what he does best. Cage and Cosmatos are like Cabernet and filet, each bringing out the subtleties of the other to create a richer, more full sensory experience. Cage’s normal brand of madness is highlighted in such a way so as to bring the craft of his acting to light, highlighting whatever it is that he does to showcase his method.
Every bloody step the film takes brings us deeper inside Cosmatos’s twisted imagination, which feels like a particularly vivid nightmare come to life. The madness never stops with Cage. In fact, Roache meets Cage almost beat for beat in terms of batshittery. So, too, do his gang of cohorts, each of which is frightening in their own way, though never as much as Roache who, as Jeremiah, is as frightening a villain as has been dreamed up.
Mandy is the kind of film best enjoyed amongst a crowd of likeminded cinematic weirdos, the kind you might find at midnight showings or who frequent chains like Alamo Drafthouse to catch their movie fix. The communal experience of Mandy is not to be discounted, though the journey it takes you on is one you can only take alone. It pulls you in, blocking out the rest of the world in order to have a one on one dialogue with you, the viewer, about what film is and what film can be. Strange and beautiful, Mandy is like nothing you have ever seen. Even if you hate it—and you might—you can’t deny that is as frenzied as a force of nature, an experience like no other, and a work of art you cannot, no matter what you do, ever forget.
Mandy is now playing at Alamo Drafthouse and other select theaters.