Arts movie review

The beautiful chaos of ‘MANDY’

A delightful homage to ’80s horror film and revenge flicks, ‘MANDY’ will make you cower, laugh, cry, and most of all, have a great time.

Directed by Panos Cosmatos
Written by Nate Bolotin
Screenplay by    Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Starring  Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake, Ned
Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Hayley Saywell
Not Rated, Now Playing

I had taken interest in MANDY since early murmurings started to come out of Sundance earlier this year, where it premiered. It featured Nicolas Cage: someone who, in my opinion, is highly underrated or mocked as an actor despite the depth of his characterization.

MANDY is, in that sense, the perfect vessel for Nic Cage’s talents.

The movie opens with a sweeping view of a forest with King Crimson playing in the background. The scene is set as 1983, with Reagan speaking on the radio about a spiritual awakening in America. This is meant to be some version of our reality — not quite the same but not completely different either. We spend the first half of the movie delving into the relationship and intimacy behind Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and the titular Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). The two of them live in a cabin full of windows in the middle of said woods — Mandy an artist, Red a lumberjack.

Jóhannsson’s soundtrack in this first half of the film is soft, almost nostalgic. We see these two laying in bed shortly afterwards, having those middle-of-the-night conversations that anyone who’s ever shared space with someone they love would know about. Those conversations mean everything and nothing. Even the light seems to coat these two with a certain softness. It is as if the intimacy these two share in their performance manifests as a literal aura; the dark blue lighting of night is cut by a ray of red over the couple as they talk about their favorite planets. The chemistry between these two characters is palpable, but it is exactly this bond that is so important for making the stakes seem so high later in the film.

Paradise doesn’t last long in this movie. Only about 20 minutes in do we get our first look at the antagonists of this story — a band of, in Red’s words, “Jesus freaks,” led by the unhinged Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a Charles Manson-esque figure who takes a liking to Mandy after seeing her walking down the road. The entire scene where Sand’s truck passes Mandy is colored a deep red, with an off-putting, droning sound setting the tone. They are later joined by a cadre of otherworldly bikers, allegedly deformed by a batch of bad acid.

The latter half of the movie, after chaos rains down upon Red, is a gory, violent, drug-fueled revenge thriller. There’s your fair share of heads exploding and chainsaw battles. There’s Nic Cage’s character getting high on the mystery substance the bikers drink, causing his face seemingly melt off. One particular scene involving a car window being put up and down several times had the theater cracking up. There’s even a Cheddar Goblin that vomits mac-and-cheese all over a group of kids in an in-universe advertisement (yeah, you heard that right).

But for all the gore and campy fun in this movie, the experience of watching it is a constant befuddlement over whether you should be laughing or cowering. There’s a scene involving Red in his bathroom after the climax of the movie, drinking half a bottle of vodka straight from the bottle and screaming, pouring it alternately into his mouth and over his wounds. It’s a scene that I’m sure will be added into numerous “Cage Rage” compilations in the near future, but honestly, that does a disservice to the scene. We hear screams from the bottom of Red’s gut, a pained cry that is almost animalistic. The screams transform into sobs and, from there, into pure rage as Cage stares right into the camera, almost as if looking straight at the viewer.

MANDY is a visceral experience. We join our characters in their darkest places. We hear Red’s voice take on a demonic quality when he finally reaches — and overpowers — Jeremiah Sand. We feel the love between Mandy and Red. We feel Red’s grief and fury. We feel ourselves attacked by Sand’s flavor of abuse. It is not an easy watch. But it is a watch that will stick with you for days and weeks afterwards.

Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough both give the performances of a lifetime in this movie, as do — for that matter — most of the cast. The visuals and music are flawless. This movie is so good that I cannot say enough about it, and I fully recommend that you watch and support it. You will not be disappointed.
Legion M President Jeff Annison, in my interview with him last week, described MANDY as, first and foremost, “batshit crazy,” and he was absolutely right. It’s crazy, it’s fun, it’s terrifying, and it’s beautiful, but most of all, it’s one of the best movies out this year.