Director: Panos Cosmatos
Writer: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Bill Duke
Mandy, the sophomore directorial effort from Panos Cosmatos, was unleashed on to the world in 2018 and has proven to be a modern horror film like no other. A simple synopsis suggests that Mandy would chronicle one man's attempt to avenge the brutal murder of his wife at the hands of a lunatic gang. Only after watching this remarkable film, however, does it become clear that such a description fails to encapsulate exactly what Mandy offers.
A fairly simple and straightforward revenge story is encased in a colourful and foggy shroud of seemingly drug-fuelled mayhem, complete with nightmarish motorcycle gangs, hand-drawn dreamworlds and a roaring tiger. Throughout its exhausting 117 minute runtime the film maintains an incredible intensity which has absolutely nothing to do with the violence - odd, for a revenge film. Instead, Mandy will subject you to a sensory overload, both visually and audibly. For almost the entire film, Jóhann Jóhannsson provides us with a powerful elemental score made up of deep, sinister tones which makes even the most innocuous scenes (few and far between they may be) wildly tense. Meanwhile, Mandy's visual effects turn the sprawling green forests of North-America into demonic hell-scapes or extra-terrestrial apocalyptic wastelands. Smoke chokes every scene, and it blurs the vibrant reds and blues to create a vivid but fuzzy backdrop for every exchange, peaceful or violent. The whole film presents as other-worldly, with the day-to-day normalities of life seeming galaxies away. There are no bystanders or onlookers or extras; no character in the film distracts from the story or serves to ground the film within a sense of reality.
Although divided into three parts or chapters by some gorgeous and distinctly 80s title cards, Mandy is really a story of two halves, and Cage is largely absent from the first. Instead it is the titular Mandy Bloom who is most present, as we witness her unfortunate fate unfold. Andrea Riseborough offers a wonderfully troubled performance as the deep-thinking Mandy who, despite being captive for much of her time on-screen, is rarely helpless, laughing in the face of her deranged, monologuing captor as she sees the world through an intoxicated purple haze of LSD.
Cage enters the fray towards the film's middle, first as the helpless onlooker of his partner's vicious murder. Our first real introduction to his character, Red Miller, takes place while he is tied and gagged outside his house, providing us with a wordless but superbly expressive portrayal of helplessness and despair. Before long, however, Miller begins to rapidly morph into an increasingly determined and savage vessel of vengeance, beginning with a shouty trouser-less bathroom scene during which his rage escapes him. Finally given an opportunity to let loose in a film which requires it, Cage's distraught-turned-crazed performance ranges from quiet to furious, with little grey area, as he begins to hunt down Mandy's killers with an array of deliciously lethal weapons. There isn't a great deal of room for nuance, and we are given little opportunity to better understand this character that Cage provides for us, but his motive remains clear, and his goal of revenge is more than enough to function as a suitable driving force for his story.
Some scenes linger a little too long, with the film refusing to increase its pace no matter how desperate you are to indulge in some violence, which only begins to appear in great quantities late into the film's final act. Mandy is a story you could tell in 30 minutes, and its run-time has only managed to reach the two hour mark due to the increasingly cryptic monologues distributed throughout the film, and the lengthy, repetitive shots. Each action and each sentence is elongated and stretched, which successfully creates a sense of distortion and weirdness, but the film perhaps pushes this approach ever-so slightly too far, testing the patience of an audience who, after an hour and 20 minutes worth of rich but extensive dialogue and charming but hallucinogenic cinematography, are itching for a little bloodshed.
If you're looking for a high-octane action-packed revenge thriller, look elsewhere, for this is not that film. Retire any expectations you may have going in, because this film is unlikely to meet any of them. Instead, buckle up and enjoy a disorientating and surreal two-hour long plunge into a brightly bizarre and violent adventure unlike any you have been on before.
In one line: Mindbogglingly bizarre and brilliantly violent in its later stages, Mandy is a revenge story which asks for patience and an open-mind, as it tells its story through a collision of colour, sound and startlingly vivid imagery.