I don’t know where to begin with Mandy. I could start with Nicolas Cage’s ludicrous performance. I could start with Jóhann Jóhannson’s drone metal score. I could comment on the other-worldly cinematography. I could start by trying to describe its chaotic plot, graphic violence, obscene one-liners, slow-boil pacing or just how much I enjoyed it. But I guess I’ll start by saying that Mandy is the most unique film I’ve seen out of 2018, for all the right reasons.
Mandy is director Panos Costamos’ sophomore project following up 2010’s Beyond the Black Rainbow. The film follows Red Miller (Cage) and his wife Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) in their peaceful secluded cottage in the wilderness of 1983. A psychotic religious cult disrupts the couple’s paradise, killing Mandy and leaving Miller to die. After escaping their grasp within inches of his life, Miller sets out to avenge his loving wife with a thirst for fanatic blood. Knowing the synopsis, I walked into the film expecting an off-the-walls bloodbath with Nicolas Cage doing what he does best—going absolutely insane. And, while I got that, Costamos was still able to subvert my expectations.
For one thing, Mandy is an incredibly slow burn. The film creeps from one long shot to the next, slowly building the tension of the horrors soon to come. Costamos lingers on character’s faces, the eerie shadows of the woods and Miller’s vivid nightmares. The result is a truly unsettling first act that leaves you dreading the horrors about to unfold. I will admit that at first I found myself growing restless waiting for Cage to finally roll some heads, but the build-up made the film’s gruesome climax all the more satisfying. Only after really experiencing the rage, horror and agony Miller faces does the emotional impact of his violent vengeance set in.
The violence of the film itself is incredibly entertaining. The audience (including myself) applauded and cheered several times at the creative ways Miller found to kill those who wronged him. Bones shatter, cars flip, necks snap, bodies burn, limbs fly and blood bursts in every direction. Cage’s maniacal performance makes the violence incredibly entertaining as he laughs and cheers as every foe falls to his mighty ax (or whatever weapon he can get his hands on.)
Going into Mandy, I expected nothing less than a wild Nicolas Cage performance. What I didn’t expect was the entire cast to match his level of insanity. Linus Roache as the cult leader Jeremiah Sand perfectly embodies the delusional egoism a self-ordained messiah would hold, and each of his disciples all take on their own brand of crazy. Even the mild mannered Mandy dips her toes in the pool of insanity. I was pleasantly surprised to see a cast that could go toe-to-toe with one of the most ridiculous actors in the industry.
The technical aspects to Mandy are gorgeous. Panos direction is precise and calculated, knowing when to hold the actors and cinematography back and when to unleash the utter chaos. Nearly every shot is filtered in bright reds, greens, purples and blues, mirroring Cage’s mental state, the psychedelic drugs the cult sedates themselves with and the 80’s retro style the film throws back to. The practical effects of the film’s gory climax are equal parts impressive and unsettling, as clever editing and life-like props make you really feel these fanatics are getting slaughtered.
Now, Mandy is certainly not for everyone. It is filled with violence, nudity, drug use, explicit gore, swearing, screaming and genuinely frightening images. The slow first act can also be seen as a bore to those who want nothing but non-stop action. The film is also, to be blunt, extremely weird. Mandy’s unique style, however, allows it to appeal to a variety of movie lovers. Do you like crazy Nic Cage performances? You’ll like Mandy. Do you like thought-provoking, slow-building horror a la The Shining? You’ll like Mandy. Do you like Evil Dead 2 levels of campy gore? You’ll like Mandy. If you’re a fan of any of these genres, I highly recommend Mandy. It is a truly unique horror experience that has something for everyone.