Red and Mandy live a peaceful and pleasant existence in their forest dwelling. But their idyllic way of life is interrupted when a sadistic cult leader becomes obsessed with Mandy and abducts her. Having his love snatched away from him sends Red into a revenge-fueled tailspin of epic proportions.
I am a big fan of Panos Cosmatos’ style. He is a visionary director and although this is only his second feature film, his aesthetic is unmistakable. His previous filmic effort, Beyond the Black Rainbow solidified his reputation as a force to be reckoned with and he has only further proven just how tremendous his talent is with his sophomore outing.
Cosmatos tells a visually striking and profoundly surreal story with Mandy. It features breathtaking cinematography and a surreal and hazy color palette that makes the picture feel even more dreamlike. He proudly wears his influences on his sleeve–not afraid to pay homage to that which inspires him, yet still telling a wholly original tale. The result is a film that is part ’80s metal video, part fever dream, part acid trip, and part exploitation flick. It sounds like an odd juxtaposition but the film very much exists at the intersection of grindhouse and arthouse.
Director Panos Cosmatos penned the screenplay for Mandy with cowriter Aaron Stewart-Ahn. The duo created a script that is exceptionally imaginative on paper but even more so when realized (under Cosmatos’ keen directorial eye) onscreen. Mandy boasts one of the most creative and original screenplays I’ve seen brought to life in recent memory. It’s unpredictable and takes the viewer on a wild ride.
One of Mandy’s many strong suits is that it is highly convincing as a period piece. It feels very much like a lost classic from the VHS era. The wardrobe and styling serve to transport the viewer back in time to 1983 when the picture takes place. The characters authentically look like they walked right out of a heavy metal music video from the early ’80s. Everything from the set design to the hair and makeup gives Mandy an impressive air of authenticity.
What separates this heavy metal fever dream from typical grindhouse fare is its exceptional performances and focus on character development. Nicolas Cage turns in a heart felt and gut-wrenching appearance as Red. When the love of his life is taken away, the audience feels like they are there with him. His heartbreak is not only believable, its palpable. Cage isn’t overacting or phoning it in like he has in a lot of his more recent outings. He is certainly still intense but his intensity is appropriate to the role and it never really approaches the level of scenery chewing. Andrea Riseborough is equally good as the titular character. She comes across as strong but fragile and tough, yet vulnerable. Linus Roache is perfectly cast as the sadistic cult leader. He oozes evil and projects a sense of utter instability.
If I haven’t managed to sell you on the emotional aspects of the film, perhaps I can interest you in the FX work. Mandy is full of messy, gory, nauseating practical effects that would feel right at home at a GWAR show. It even features one of the most grotesque blood vomit scenes I’ve seen in some time. And that’s to say nothing of the numerous decapitation sequences and various acts of stabbiness.
I was also taken with the film’s wicked, dark sense of humor. In one particularly memorable scene, Nic Cage lights a cigarette in the flames of a recently decapitated character’s flaming severed head.
My only qualm with Mandy is that it has some pacing problems. I realize that Cosmatos wanted to spend the first half of the film establishing the authenticity of Mandy and Red’s relationship so that the retribution sequences would feel authentic and warranted. However, taking over an hour to get to the revenge spree is almost certain to alienate and bore some viewers. With that in mind, if you can be patient with the slow build, the payoff makes the anticipation more than worthwhile.
The Blu-ray transfer of the film is crisp and vivid, allowing the viewer to see the director’s vision in all of its crazy glory. The home video release includes an insightful and honest behind-the-scenes featurette and a series of deleted and extended scenes. Mandy is metal af and you should make haste to check it out when it drops on Blu-ray October 30th.
WICKED RATING: 8.5/10
Director(s): Panos Cosmatos
Writer(s): Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, and Linus Roache
Release: October 30, 2018 (Home Video)
Studio/ Production Co: SpectreVision, RLJ Entertainment
Budget: $6 Million (estimated)
Length: 121 Minutes