Talk about a gorgeous, haunted rock concert of a movie. I’m so happy director Panos Cosmatos has been able to continue the throw-everything-at-the-wall style trip he was on for his debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow. Mixing Dario Argento horror, 80s kitsch, proto-heavy metal so heavy it feels like the soundtrack to an ancient sect of evil monks, and a strong simple belief in true love, Cosmatos doesn’t so much make a movie as cast a spell.
At the start of the film (set in “1983 A.D.”), Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough live a cozy hand-me-down afghan life in a little cabin out in the woods. Cage is literally a modern lumberjack, cutting down massive redwoods with a chainsaw. Riseborough works in a convenience store and is also a talented artist, sketching away in a Motley Crue t-shirt. They eat dinner in front of wild VHS discoveries every night, and hold each other as they dream.
Riseborough as Mandy has an exploratory nature and takes long walks alone in the woods. During one walk a van drives by her. Through the film’s skill at conveying information visually, we know the van passengers are a cult without having to be told, and we know they have found their next “recruit”.
This sets off a chain of events of increasing insanity, a description of which pales in comparison to seeing it. I will say Cage is better modulated than in many of his recent films. He begins the film in a mundane calm, keeping his words to a minimum, and telling goofy jokes to Riseborough. Yet as the film escalates, so does he, leading to a long-take freak out that was completely earned by the story. Cage utterly absorbed me in Mandy. Cosmatos was able to point Cage in the right direction and let him loose in all the right ways. He’s no less “Nicolas Cage”, but better used.
Mandy is technically a “revenge film”, but it feels like it’s up to something more primordial. The story, Johan Johannson’s stellar music (the final score of an upcoming musical talent sadly gone too soon), Cage’s bloodthirsty performance, the silent menace of the cult members, the way there are always lights on inside cars driving at night, Andrea Riseborough’s slight knowing smile, all add up to emotions we need pictures to express because words just make them cheap.
The opening title card “This Film Should Be Played Loud” has shown up in a shockingly wide array of movies. Mandy doesn’t have one, but it would fit like a metal-studded glove.