The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.

Reviewed by Simon Ramshaw.

Director Panos Cosmatos
Length 121 minutes
Certificate 18
Rating *********-
Filmmaking: 4  Personal enjoyment: 5

Photo from the article There is always a degree of cynicism directed towards each new Nicolas Cage film which bores me senseless. Every other review seems to judge Cage on a very particular scale: namely, by how much he freaks out. Few other actors are viewed through such a prism, which reduces the raw energy generated by Cage’s presence on-screen to the status of plain bad acting or (more annoyingly) ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ acting. His choice of projects hasn’t been perfect, but Cage is a uniquely committed and talented performer.

Enter Panos Cosmatos, with his hell-born, heavy metal horror. Mandy is a vision so ludicrously kaleidoscopic that it will (hopefully) alter the light in which Cage is viewed, and it marks perhaps the greatest synthesis between the actor and a director who matches his rhythm since David Lynch wrote a snakeskin jacket into the screenplay of Wild at Heart upon Cage’s request. It’s taken 28 years, but we finally have another hulk of seething insanity to match Cage’s own.

Before it evolves into a Grindhouse genre picture played against a blacklight and obscured by some smoke from a nearby bong hit, Mandy begins as a tender love story. Red (Cage) and the eponymous Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live peacefully away from civilisation in a cosy woodland cabin. They are outsiders, both bearing subtle scars from the past, but each other’s presence is all they need to preserve a quiet happiness. The alarm bells should start to ring for horror enthusiasts as soon as we find out they live by a ‘Crystal Lake’, and it isn’t long before Red and Mandy’s bubble is violently burst. Instead of Jason Voorhees terrorising the inhabitants of Crystal Lake, it’s failed hippy musician Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, both hilarious and terrifying) and his colourful cult of weirdos, unleashing a gang of ravenous demon bikers upon the happy couple. This sends Red on a borderline Orphic descent into hellish madness where, armed with a crossbow (‘The Reaper’) and a mystical axe (‘The Beast’), he unleashes heavy metal vengeance on the “CRAZY EVIL” that has devastated his idyllic existence.

It all may sound like just another 80s nostalgia indulgence piece in the style of Kung Fury or Deathgasm, but Cosmatos strikes a very particular chord that sets Mandy above the rest. Conjuring up the same glacial pace and soupy atmosphere he brought to his debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Cosmatos allows his film to stew in the 1983 setting just long enough for you to adjust to the film’s peculiar rhythms and quirky tics. Mandy becomes so outrageously stylised that a brief comic interlude involving a diminutive beastie known as ‘Cheddar Goblin’ makes total sense. However, unlike Black Rainbow, there is a crucial human element to the story that makes the gonzo carnage of the second half so special, and it owes its effectiveness to the talents of Cage and Andrea Riseborough.

While Cage gets to add another vintage freak-out to his already-impressive roster (yes, I know I’m doing what I said I hate to read in Cage reviews, but hear me out, I’ll bring it back), there is a real sense of pain to his mania here. Cage surprisingly rarely speaks here, quietening but not stifling his presence, and his scenes with Riseborough provide a lovely initial serenity later to be surrendered to both the film and Red’s madness. Riseborough is wonderful, conveying legitimate trauma behind a thin veneer of ethereality. Although there is barely any elaboration on Mandy’s past, we feel everything through Riseborough’s damaged gaze.

There’s also excellent support from Linus Roache, who manages to make Sand into a truly frightening villain; an amalgamation of Charles Manson and Frank Booth. The rest of the cast are a unique ensemble who each get their moment to shine, particularly during Cage’s third act confrontations with each member of the cult. Even 80s stalwart Bill Duke turns up for an enjoyably bad-ass interlude where the film’s tone smoothly changes from an eerie backwoods drama into a full-blown gore picture.

Because of that gear shift, Mandy isn’t for everybody. I suspect a few may be turned off by the emphasis on heavy metal aesthetics and high levels of ridiculous violence, but for those that can embrace the overwrought emotion and eyeball-searing stylistics of Red and Mandy’s doomed romance, this is a ready-made cult movie, steaming and fresh from the ovens of hell. It marks yet another work in which the vibrancy of Cage as a performer is matched by the creator, and I for one cannot wait to see which dark avenue Cosmatos and Cage take a bad trip down next.

Read the alternate take for an in-depth review

This review was published on November 04, 2018.

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