“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Mandy

MANDY is a deranged bad trip of a movie from director Panos Cosmatos (BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW). It features a high grade mega-acting performance from Nicolas Cage (FIREBIRDS), and Cosmatos is the rare director to cinematically keep pace with Cage’s style rather than try to balance it out. He and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb (KING COBRA) peel off the skin of reality and find the painted covers of obscure fantasy novels and death metal albums beneath.

Cage plays Red Miller, a lumberjack who lives in a cabin in the Shadow Mountains circa 1983 with his fantasy illustrator girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough, OBLIVION). One day they get kidnapped by a demonic biker gang and psychotic Christian cult led by hippie folk singer Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK), who strings Red up with barb wire and (SPOILER) burns Mandy alive, leaving her to crumble into ashes in his hands.

But he escapes and gathers some weapons and comes back and fucking fucks shit up. And that’s enough to hang a movie on in my opinion but explaining the premise does not remotely describe the movie, which seems from frame one to be drugged out of its mind and/or existing on a different astral plane. I bet when they try to play BORN LOSERS on Civic TV, this is how it broadcasts – a psychedelic fever dream revenge nightmare.

You know how some people (incorrectly) complain about Jack Nicholson already being crazy at the beginning of THE SHINING? Cage starts out calm, but stylistically the movie’s already at “Here’s Johnny.” The otherworldly approach includes intentionally long and slow scenes, little known about the characters, about 65% of the dialogue I have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about, and a chunk of that is pitched or slowed down so they sound like demons. The storytelling exactly matches the symphony of drones and guitars and dashes of synth on the score by the late genius Jóhann Jóhannsson. Pulsing shadows cover faces, often washed in red or blue tint, dusted with dancing digital grain. Reality seems to merge with Mandy’s art, even switching to animation at times.

I kinda wish it was tighter. It’s a bit of an endurance test, for me especially the section after meeting Mandy and Red and before seeing Red wreak his savage vengeance. The torment part.

But when Red escapes and goes back home it’s like the movie is loudly revving the engine of the four wheeler he’ll soon be roaring around on, silhouetted against apocalyptic crimson haze. He stumbles into the cabin in a near trance, stands and watches a commercial on the TV they left on. To me there’s something kinda profound and hilarious and true about the fact that he has just gone through one of the worst tragedies a human could experience and this silliness is what welcomes him home. The first time he speaks after the death of the love of his life is to mumble the ridiculous name of a consumer product to himself.

And next is a tour de force uninterrupted take of him in the bathroom with no pants on swigging vodka and going from shock to monstrous rage to intense grief. Sand has invaded the life of funny, charming, laid back Nicolas Cage and broken him down to the point that mega-acting is the only sane reaction.

Though generally more loose and less cold than BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, there are a couple of great controlled, show-offy directorial moves like that scene. Another one is Jeremiah’s long, cryptic speech, his face filling the screen and repeatedly changing into Mandy’s face listening to him, then back. The shifts are so subtle it took me a while to determine that was what was happening, but I definitely saw Mandy’s scar appearing and disappearing. It’s different, but I’ll go ahead and consider it a tribute to the groundbreaking morphing sequence from Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video.

Some movies MANDY made me think of, in approximate order: EATEN ALIVE, LORD OF ILLUSIONS, HELLRAISER, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, LORDS OF SALEM, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, COBRA, HEAVY METAL, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, THE EVIL DEAD, NIGHTBREED, MANHUNTER, FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D. But not really in the same genre as and much stranger and more hallucinatory than any of those.

I get a kick out of a certain amount of audience alienation in a movie. To me it’s kinda funny and kinda that type of subversive spirit that some people describe as “punk rock.” But also the older I get I gotta admit that too much of that punk rock’ll turn me into a narc. At some point in a movie I gotta have some kind of connection, human or otherwise, or it’s gonna lose me. Cosmatos I think intentionally cartwheels right along that edge. I never reviewed his debut BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW because I loved its mood and style and the experience of it, but I have to admit I didn’t feel as involved in it as I wanted by the end and didn’t feel I had anything new to add to the conversation about it, which was being handled very well by people more on the movie’s wavelength.

I like MANDY alot more – it’s only slightly more attached to genre convention, but it’s grounded in the sweet humanity of the love between Mandy and Red, even if they’re damaged weirdos who lay around talking about their favorite planets. Normally revenge movies have some kind of pure All-American existence that’s violated by punks or creeps or devil worshippers or gangs. Here we have hazy stoners who live out in the woods listening to heavy metal and reading crazy fantasy novels, and they get terrorized by depraved psychos that Red is able to describe as “Jesus freaks.” Later the camera ogles a triangular church with such fetishistic attention to its geometry that it seems like some kind of occult ritual, even with that big ol’ correctly oriented cross there.

As challengingly off-putting as MANDY is before the turning point into undeniable awesomeness, I’m already getting the itch to go watch it again. This is a weird comparison, but it reminds me of my reaction to THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, which I had some small reservations about at first blush and then kinda fell in love with upon further analysis. The similarity is the amount of detail put into what people susceptible to buzz words loved calling “world building” back when AVATAR came out. Mandy has artwork, she has a favorite author, we see titles of and hear readings from some of his work. Jeremiah has a folk album. According to the credits, some of the weapons are called “The Beast,” “Tainted Blade” and “Horn of Abraxas.” I don’t believe the cause of Mandy’s scar was specified. I mentioned that commercial (which is directed by Casper Kelly, the guy that did Too Many Cooks). And I’m sure there’s an explanation or back story for the #44 baseball jersey and many other props. We need a visual dictionary like they do for the Star Wars movies. When I first read about the movie I jokingly offered to write a novelization of it, but I would be unqualified – I honestly wish Cosmatos and his co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn had done one.

I think it’s safe to say that Cosmatos has established himself as a filmatist whose work has little in common with that of his father George Pan Cosmatos (RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II). But I found it a delight to see him make a film where the hero forges a shimmery, exotic battle ax to fight religious freaks and I can’t help but think of Brian Thompson’s weird curved knife and underground serial killer cult in COBRA.

I also very much appreciate the classical action movie tradition of going to a trailer to obtain weapons from an unexplained old friend who

1) is played by Bill motherfuckin PREDATOR “you know you done fucked up right?” Duke

and

2) delivers a joyously melodramatic monologue that may be the only exposition ever provided in the movie. He gives a Just How Evil Are They and origin myth for the Black Skulls biker gang and provides Red with a crossbow called “The Reaper” that he says will “cut through bone like a fat kid through cake.”

Don’t get me wrong. MANDY feels more like a potent intoxicant or primal myth than a straight action or horror movie, but it does deliver some of that good shit. There is a chainsaw duel. He mutilates a guy in such a way that blood covers his entire face including his teeth and then he laughs about it. Cosmatos revels in transforming Cage into some kind of post-apocalyptic pagan warrior, a refugee from an obscure album cover by some brain damaged Frank Frazetta acolyte. Robert Rodriguez probly dreamt of having this kinda shit in GRINDHOUSE, but this has no tongue in cheek, no wink, just a half smile of “fuck you, I know what’s awesome.”

The movie is currently in one of those limited theaters-and-VOD-at-the-same-time releases, but here we have it playing a week of only 9 pm shows. I saw it with a big crowd that clapped at times and seemed very primed to guffaw at Cage’s most extreme sounds and expressions, which I mostly disagreed with. But I recommend the theatrical experience if available. Yes, it’s fun to hear a crowd applaud Cage for spontaneously snorting some coke he finds during a rampage. But more importantly, letting the flashes blind you and the sound wash over you seems like an important part of the movie’s hypnotism.

Although I guess at home you could play it backwards to see if it has secret incantations or something.

Ethical disclosure brag: I had a correspondence with director Cosmatos before he directed BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, and I was friends with co-writer Stewart-Ahn many years ago when he lived in Seattle. I don’t have any inside knowledge of their artistic intent and I think I’ve written this review the same as I would if they were strangers, but I believe in being transparent about this sort of thing in case you disagree.

P.S. MANDY is produced by SpectreVision, Elijah Wood’s company that does cool low budget horror movies, so I wanted to mention that Wood and Cage starred together in an obscure, oddball cop movie that I liked called THE TRUST.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 at 12:45 pm and is filed under Action, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Responses to “Mandy”

  1. I watched this VOD not knowing what to expect, and in the days since it’s really stuck in my head. I loved it. To me, this is next level mega Cage because while he does go big where appropriate, it’s a controlled burn and feels motivated rather than big for big’s sake.

  2. This is straight into my top 5 of all time. I can’t stop thinking about it. I wish I could be more articulate about why but I just want to bask in its glow of demented awesomeness.

  3. So since the description of the movie sounds (superficially) a little bit like Drive Angry as well, is there (coincidentally) anything like that in this film past the description of “Attack by cultists, goes after them to kill them?”.

  4. There’s no way I’m reading this. I’ve made it this far without hearing even a rudimentary synopsis of what this is about. All I know is director of BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW + shamanistic spirit vessel Nic Cage ÷ chainsaw fight = I’m fucking there. Except I’m NOT fucking there because I live in the burbs now and they ain’t showing it out here. They’re showing fuckin’ UNBROKEN 2: THE JESUSING and some other Christian horseshit movie in an attempt to lure the grandmas to matinees. Well, let me tell you something about the grandmas, ignorant theater owner. The grandmas will see ANYTHING. I’ve been hitting the early bird special for a couple years now. Usually, it’s just me and the grandmas. And let me tell you, I’ve seen some twisted shit with the grandmas. And not once, not one time, have I seen a grandma get up and leave or complain or do anything but have a grand old time. The grandmas can take anything. The grandmas would eat this shit up. You think you got anything that can shock the grandmas? Fat chance! Stop underestimating the grandmas, cinema owners! The grandmas deserve MANDY!

    This message has been brought to you by The Society For Reminding You That The Grandmas Have Seen Some Shit In Their Day.

  5. I can’t get this movie out of my head. I went in totally blind so it was a lot of what the fuck. I have to say one thing. Linus Roach completely out Cage’s Cage in this one. He was fucking brilliant and I have no idea how you don’t talk about him once. We have seen Cage do this but not a guy who played the ADA on Law and Order.

  6. I read that Cosmatos originally wanted Cage for the role of Sand, and rewrote the dialogue to fit him. When the casting turned out the way it did he still left the dialogue meant for Cage.

  7. Yeah they did a Q&A after my screening and they talked about that.

  8. Cosmatos had one of the most poignant reasonings for why Beyond was so…weird(?)
    He described being a kid and going to the video store and seeing the covers and posters and trailers for all these films he couldn’t or wouldn’t actually see but he would form his own kind of narratives of what these films must be like based on such little info…and that he just approaches making a film in the same way. What COULD this film be? I appreciate that approach and have used it to inform my own work.

    Funny story; I can’t watch this or Beyond with one of my best friends because he dated a wannabe actress who dumped him and ran off to Canada with Cosmatos. He still has feelings about it.

  9. @ Mr. Majestyk

    That describes some of the audience I saw Upgrade with.

    @ Adam

    “He described being a kid and going to the video store and seeing the covers and posters and trailers for all these films he couldn’t or wouldn’t actually see but he would form his own kind of narratives of what these films must be like based on such little info…and that he just approaches making a film in the same way. What COULD this film be?”

    That explains so much.

    As for the other thing you said … I just don’t know what to say.

  10. I made it about 15 minutes, Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood or something, but it felt like watching a monkey bang on a keyboard, trying desperately to come up with Hamlet. If that makes any sense

  11. Mr. Majestyk, I enjoyed your comment profusely. Other than that, I don’t have anything to add.

  12. I’m skittish about this one. Firstly because I like Nicolas Cage, but I’m not a big fan of ***”NICOLAS CAGE”***, if you see what I mean and I bet you do. Secondly because a whole lot of the people I see on social media crowing about how this movie is “SO METAL” don’t actually listen to anything heavier than Bon Iver, and think of metal as some ironic joke. Not only have I been listening to metal for over 30 years, I’m also a journalist; I’ve interviewed Rob Halford, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Glenn Danzig, Rob Zombie, dudes from Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and literally scores of other people, and reviewed hundreds upon hundreds of albums. So basically, I don’t trust the critics on this one. At ALL. But Vern’s review, in all its ambivalence, I trust.

    (I kinda think I might like Beyond The Black Mirror more, and I may watch that first.)

  13. burningambulance – It seems to me the “metal” description makes sense, but you’ll notice I only compared it to album covers. I generally don’t use the “metal” or “punk rock” adjectives without quotes because I’d feel like a poser trying to pass myself off as someone who can use those terms. I look forward to finding out if you think it qualifies or not.

  14. I’m excited yet hesitant to see this. I’m a fan of the cinematography and especially the score of Beyond The Black Rainbow, but I find it truly trying in regards to having an actual story and characters of any interest. And while I can appreciate a movie that takes its time and doesnt cut every 3 seconds, this pushed even my limits.

    I even saw Cosmatos speak before the flick, and he gave the same spiel about being inspired by VHS covers and making the movie that would match the cover. That sounded aweaone to me. But I’m pretty sure he was high. Both at the screening and while writing. And the end result was disappointing to say the least. (But, again, with a great look and sound)

    This looks to be similar but with a chainsaw fight with Nic Cage, so I’m totally down. (Already bought the score and it’s clutch). I want it to be good.

  15. burningambulance- I am a metal-head. The way Vern feels about funk and hip hop is how I feel about metal, so I’ll weigh in for you: I understand your pause with the way critics are describing this movie as “metal”. The way many of them have worded it it is superficial and vaguely backhanded. But you know what? MANDY is metal as fuck. Metal isn’t subtle, it is sincere and operatic, it is aggressive and primal, it is nerdy, and it is not for everyone. That is MANDY to a fucking T.

    And to further make the case for it’s metal bonafides: Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) fame lends his guitar playing to the score in all it’s doomy, droning, roaring glory.

  16. As a punk rocker I have to object to this! A piece of art can’t be both “punk” and “metal”. These two genres are not alike!

  17. Linus Roache? Richard Brake? Mega-Cage? This sounds promising.

  18. I’m still processing what I just saw. I like that you mentioned the “44” shirt he wore and how he mentioned it was his favorite when it got tore, then later on in a flashback to where he presumably saw Mandy for the first time, he was wearing that very shirt. The tiger shirt he wore earlier on was foreshadowing the tiger that would later show up for no reason (I probably wouldn’t have thought of this one if I hadn’t remembered the tiger from the trailer). I also liked that there was a box or two of a certain consumer product on the shelf of Bill Duke’s pantry. I know I probably missed a lot more of these little details so that ensures that I’ll probably end up buying this movie. Great review.

  19. This would make a great double feature with Refn’s Valhalla Rising. I think if you like that film and its themes, then you’ll like Mandy. Definitely some overlap there.

  20. There’s a 45 minute version of this movie I would love, but at two full hours the balance between “challengingly offputting” and “undeniably badass” content was just too out of whack for me. I’m too much of a square, it turns out, I couldn’t hack it.

  21. Watched it today and I agree with JTS though it seems I liked it more than him. I enjoyed it but didn’t love it as expected. I can watch the last 40 minutes over and over again, the lead up not so much. In that sense it kinda reminded me of BRAWL AT CELL BLOCK 99. Still, being compared to BRAWL isn’t bad…

    In other news I also saw OPERATION FINALE today and recommend it. Worth it just to watch Ben Kingsley completely kill it.

  22. Geoffrey – I think the thing about Brawl in Cell Block 99 is that despite the extremely slow pace, the story keeps twisting and escalating, so by the time he enters the 3rd prison (inside the 2nd prison!) it’s 1) almost comical and 2) has you on the edge of your seat ready for the resolution since all the plot’s moving pieces are now in place (like his wife and the kidnappers and the drug cartel and the warden, etc…) Mandy unfortunately has nothing story-wise to offset the glacial pace, since unlike Brawl, the plot can literally be summed up in one sentence (a guy goes after a cult that killed his wife). Sure there’s flourishes like the Hellraiser guys and Bill Duke and the tiger scene, but it’s all wacky, inconsequential window dressing that looks cool but means nothing.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this as one of the last few remaining Terrence Malick fans, but this movie was just too damn slow. My friend literally went to the bathroom for a long time and came back and the movie wasn’t just on the same scene, it was on the same conversation when he left. And yeah, the cinematography is neon-y and looks cool but that can only get you so far. The cinematography and lighting in Atomic Blonde is pretty much the same but nobody really talks about that since there’s y’know, other shit going on in that movie to talk about like incredible action sequences. Speaking of which, the fights in Mandy, which you have to wait about an hour and a half for, are absolutely incoherent and poorly shot (like I get what was SUPPOSED to happen at the end of the three main fights but it’s not clear why or how they happen).

    I THINK i remember Vern (or maybe someone else here) saying Cage’s performance literally wrecked “Army of One”, and I can see that. It’s an off-putting, out-there performance. But at least that was in line with the wacky comedy he was in. Here, Cage’s Cage-iest moments like “You ripped my shirt!” and the coke-snorting and the dramatic neck-snapping seem out of some kind of Evil Dead 2-splatter comedy, not the extreeeeeeemely slow and somber mood piece the other 95% of the movie is. It’s just tonal whiplash and makes you wish the movie was on his wavelength or vice versa.

    Look, I’m glad people like this movie. I’m glad Nicolas Cage is becoming a talking point again and bloggers and hipsters (like the obnoxious ones I was in the theater with) can now claim they’ve always appreciated him, ironically or not. But yeah, this was an endurance test that I failed miserably at. I wish I could say I’ll watch it again at home while high, but I don’t even think I can muster that strength. (I’ll totally watch Mom and Dad again anytime though).

  23. I agree with neal2zod, btw. I loved Brawl in Cell Block 99 and was never bored by it, but I found Mandy *incredibly* boring. I wanted to use the phrase “endurance test” too, but wasn’t sure if I would be using it right. (Though we differ in that I *did* like the last half hour.)

  24. This sounds pretty damn great. The type of we expect from Nic Cage. The right type of weird with special quirks and lots of room for subtle and mega acting showcases. I really hope I can find this theatrically. A VOD viewing sounds like it’ll be a disservice.

  25. i love this movie so much. i love panos. i love his weird beardo brain. i love that people like him get to make a movie like this. i love that people are getting this played in their local theaters due to sheer word of mouth and the chance to see something truly unique. thank fucking satan for this beautiful weird thing.

  26. One subtle thing I loved about the movie was Red refusing a drink in the helicopter in the opening credits, kind of hinting he’s a recovering alcoholic, and then that detail coming back later on when he’s digs out the stashed bottle of vodka in the bathroom scene

  27. All I know about this other than what I’ve read so far is that this opens with “Starless” by King Crimson. I’ve made my love of prog rock here known, and Crimson are one of the touchstones of the genre. They have something of a cinematic history already, with “Moonchild” being used in BUFFALO ’66 and “The Court of the Crimson King” in CHILDREN OF MEN, both from their iconic debut album IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING.

    This song is from their 1974 effort RED. Funnily enough in this talk of how “metal” the movie is, the album is considered by some the first progressive metal album. It was one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite records. “Starless” is sung by bassist John Wetton, who would later sing for Asia. He passed away a few years ago, and with this inclusion I’m glad he has a cinematic legacy that isn’t just limited to a song from OVER THE TOP.

  28. This movie was straight up awful. Only the 2nd time in my life that I have walked out on a movie. If I was by myself I probably would have toughed it out but I made my brother in law go and he hated it even more than me so I did not want to torture him any further. We actually made it all the way to where the revenge starts but the first hour was so excruciatingly bad that I couldn’t give two shits about the revenge part. I don’t care how awesome the rest of the movie was, there’s no way it could be worth it.

    I was in a half full theater (in Ireland) and most of the people were laughing hysterically during Nic Cage’s bathroom scene. So I couldn’t help laughing with them. And the macaroni commercial was amazing. But, yeah, this movie sucked hard.

  29. I love this film. It is an utterly original experience. It is so strange, hypnotic, fluid, and cohesive. So assured. Alien and alienating and full of warmth and then white-hot emotion. Not a sequel, not a reboot, not commercial, not really arthouse. It’s totally in its own lane. Thank heavens Cage is no longer indentured to Jerry Bruckheimer.

  30. Just wanted to pop in and say this movie is awesome, and pegsman is wrong about the punk/metal dichotomy. The venn overlap between those genres is immense!

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