MOVIE REVIEW: Mandy
Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage became his own Urban Dictionary term six years ago, adding to his notorious legend as a pop culture icon. According to their submitted snark a “Nicolas Cage” is defined as:
An actor who is physically unable to show restraint when accepting film roles. The quality of the role is reflected in the length of his hair. A neat haircut will surely garner some sort of critical recognition. One of the few actors in Hollywood to get incrementally worse with each role. Also, he has a tendency to appear in odd publications such as Serbian textbooks and Civil War photographs. He is possibly inhuman, inflicting generations of unsuspecting moviegoers for generations to come.
LESSON #1: FEW ACTORS EVER LOSE THEIR TALENT — Cage may be the butt of many jokes and the source of an endless stream of stupefying quotes, but the man is still an Oscar-winning actor. Even slowed to a degree and clouded plenty, his chops are still incisive. No matter what work he is saddled with or laps up for a debt relief paycheck, Nicolas Cage pulls from a searing furnace of talent and absolutely brings it. Vigor is rarely a question.
The zany bi-product of Cage’s addictive self-indulgence is that we get to see a committed and endowed artist apply his craft in nontraditional places, which is a nice way of saying lesser and lower-budgeted films. The challenge then isn’t on Cage, who is often better than the material he’s given. It’s whether the film can rise to meet his fury and tenacity as a performer. He brings it. Can the film do the same?
For Mandy, goodness gracious has it been brought! Director and co-writer Panos Cosmatos (son of Tombstone director George P.) has fashioned a disgustingly gorgeous and frightfully unforgettable film. Orchestrating a heady and bonkers battlescape of zealot versus vindicator, Cosmatos and his enlisted collaborators have applied outlandish high style to the grungiest possible incarnations of evil. This film defies normal description and destroys sentiment as something impossibly dark that has to be seen to be believed. Bind this monster in all of the buyer-beware tape you can find.
Set in the primal wilderness of the Mojave’s Shadow Mountains in 1983, Red Miller (Cage) is a logger looking for the simple and slow life with with his dearest companion, Mandy Bloom (Birdman and Oblivion actress Andrea Riseborough). Her fair and flightful sense of fantasy and his bearded and placid poeticism share stimulating and symbiotic solace in their quiet log cabin off the beaten path. They are dour paired with dour. Their rustic serenity is derailed when Mandy attracts the lustful gaze of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a deranged religious fanatic with a ghoulish and garish following.
LESSON #2: AVOID THE WACKOS — Completely judging a book by its cover, Roache’s Sand is not the prophet he portends himself to be. Religious power doesn’t work that way. Spot the loony people quickly and avoid contact and future ire. That said, maybe that’s this movie for folks too. Mandy is a tough recommend to the usual upstanding and squeaky-clean demographic. You don’t enjoy this movie. You respect it.
Capturing her and tying Red up to watch, Jeremiah drugs Mandy and pours his snake oil of rhetoric into her ear, brain, and heart. Having his advances humiliatingly refused, Jeremiah and his demonic disciples enact violent punishment on the vigilant couple. Surviving the assault, the incensed Red recovers with unbridled anger with the aim to mangle and maim Jeremiah and his minions with his own reckoning of revenge.
LESSON #3: KILL A MAN BEFORE YOU EMPOWER HIS REVENGE — Allowing Red to survive is Jeremiah’s largest mistake and one repeated by far too many movie villains. He deserves what’s coming to him.
LESSON #4: IMPROVISED WEAPONS ARE THE PERFECT WAY TO MAKE COMBAT PERSONAL — Perpetrators like Jeremiah Sand earn special treatment for their impending deaths. After hitting up an old buddy named Carruthers (old Predator cast member Bill Duke) and soaking up his soothsaying truths and encouraging enlightenment, Red arms himself with a modified crossbow and hammers out his own battle axe from a homemade forge. Like Narsil wielded by Sauron, that’s a personal touch of commitment and intimidation right there.
More often than not, a B-movie fashioned this as dank and deranged has no business looking and sounding this damn good. There’s no other way of complimenting the aesthetic astonishment this film creates. The intentional wild grime constructed by production designer Hubert Pouile (Marina) and Oriana De Neve’s makeup seep into every frame and are shot with a waxy, and often neon-backed, glow by cinematographer Benjamin Loeb (Hello Destroyer). His calm dissolves give way to hyperactive acts of violence which jump off the screen in trippy visuals that rival those of Blade Runner 2049 with its exponentially larger budget. The final and largest ingredient of tone in this salacious stew is the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s formidable and intimidating musical score employing his signature electronic enhancements. Talent creates an extra level of flare on every level.
Swinging across the pendulum of wrought and wrecked to vehemence and hemorrhaged, Nicolas Cage has been given the direction to looked worked and then explode, two things he’s an expert at performing with reckless abandon. Even for a what could have been a shoddy, Cage lets it all go. He goes to a different place than his peers and contemporaries are willing to wade. When it’s hunting time, he hunts. The craziest thing of all might be that Cage’s antagonist opponent goes even further than him. Believe it or not, Linus Roache, the prim and proper Brit most audiences are used to seeing romance Henry James work like The Wings of the Dove or hiding underneath an American accent as a former Law & Order regular, is more batsh-t crazy than cage. He is marvelously unsettling.
Through this bizarre cinematic charisma, Mandy thematically dives to many blackened depths. Moving from adversary to adversary towards the big end boss almost like the levels of an increasingly harrowing video game, the violence is as brutal as it is creative in its descent. Everything eerie is also ethereal and the collision of those tastes on screen is remarkable. Mandy may be the artsiest piece of trash you have ever seen. To that end, it is fair to question the deplorable content. However, you cannot question the craft found in this mayhem. It's two hours of your life you won't get back, but it's two you won't soon forget.