*THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS*
This is the variety of creative energy that only emerges when an artist has outright control of his/her vision. Here, that artist is Panos Cosmatos, roping us in for another staggering, psychedelic treat six years after his first film Beyond the Black Rainbow. Both films deal heavily with grief. Mandy is dedicated to Icelandic composure Jóhann Jóhannsson who died in 2018 before the film’s release but the real inspiration behind both films draws from the tragic death of Cosmatos’ parents. Since its release Cosmatos has opened up about the trauma he felt after losing his parents and how far he has come to letting go of those overwhelming feelings of remorse. “I was sitting in my living room, and suddenly I saw myself 10 years in the future, still sitting in that living room, not ever having done anything with my life.” He got himself together and moved to Vancouver which is where he started production on Rainbow, aiding him through his feelings of regret and guilt and he began to develop the storyboard for Mandy which would ultimately help him through his anger and step aside from blackout drinking binges with his friends as a coping mechanism. (I can relate.)
Mandy is unlike anything else you will ever see. It’s a kaleidoscopic, transformative hallucinogen all in itself with a hippie cult, demon biker gangs, loads of cocaine, fantasy acid fuckery and arguably some of the best battle scenes caught on film. The pacing at the first 45 minutes of the film drags a little simply to provide the audience with its central characters, Mandy and Red. The universe revolves around the love these two characters share. In 1983, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) has settled into a quaint life in the middle of nowhere with his soulmate, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), a strangely seductive but quiet artist. A Charles Manson inspired cult, Children of the New Dawn, kidnaps her when their leader, Jeremiah (Linus Roache), becomes obsessed. Not only does Mandy turn down Jeremiah’s advances she laughs in his face and at his pseudo-intellectual music, humiliating him. Mandy rejects him in the most spectacularly daring fashion. Sand stands before her, vulnerable and naked, with an outlandish sales pitch. “You know, I’ve been blessed to know the comfort of many women. But there are few that have had your radiance. You’re a special one, Mandy. I, too, am a special one. ” Mandy maniacally laughs his proposal down and he doesn’t know what else to do but scream, “Shut up!” He screams at his followers to look away. His screaming turns to crying and Mandy cannot stop laughing.
“The male ego is a terrifying, terrifying thing, you know? If it’s shattered, it becomes even more dangerous.” – Panos Cosmatos
The director has expressed his expertise in great detail on numerous occasions regarding this scene. His own experiences and observations of the aggressive male getting turned down by a woman at a bar or online is transferred onto film in the most complimentary fashion and on behalf of women everywhere I’d like to thank Cosmatos. It’s probably one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen in a while.
Cosmatos continues, “That was one of the earliest scenes that I wanted to do. I just find there’s nothing funnier and more scary than a delusional man who thinks they’re the center of the universe, and in fact they’re not. They’re nothing but dangerous in that way, and I just wanted Mandy to laugh in the face of that. Because she’s the center of this film, I wanted her to be the one to essentially destroy him. He would die physically later, but I think he died right there.”
In retaliation, Jeremiah has his gang of homicidal nut burgers set her ablaze in front of a restrained Red. He’s forced to watch the love of his life burn until there’s merely nothing but ash to trickle through his fingers. It’s safe to say that Red did not take this well. We absorb the rest of the film witnessing what Cage does best; Ridiculously screaming and crying with pure raw emotion. There’s a scene where he is guzzling a bottle of Vodka and shrieking from the pain as he pours the liquor over his wounds in his God damn tidy whities with 70’s style bathroom decor in the background. This was another moment for Cosmatos to provide us with an insight on what it was like for him. “I always wanted to have a scene that felt like that lost decade of mine and evokes me drinking with my friends in a desperate attempt to black out my consciousness.”
Cage is the only actor who could pull this scene off. He’s an Academy Award winning actor for a reason and he gave the performance of a lifetime in Mandy. He had such great chemistry with Andrea Riseborough that lasted until that final shot with Red and Mandy smiling at each other. Even the most tender moments between Red and Mandy felt real. There’s a lot to be said about the history of Red and Mandy that’s left up to the viewers. We never get a full explanation as to where Mandy got that scar on her face and it’s very subtle but upon a second and third and forth watch I gathered that something traumatic happened to her as she opens up about her family’s past. She had mentioned that her father would force her and the neighborhood kids to kill baby starlings. From these we can assume Mandy has had a hard life. But we learn more about her personality from her fashion choices, Motley Crue and Black Sabbath tees. Mandy appears to be an introvert but in a flashback we see her at a packed bar, crying, and Red is looking back at her. I assume that’s when the two first met and he becomes her knight in shining armor. Red is another story. It’s just a theory but many viewers suspect he is a recovering alcoholic and possibly a veteran which would explain the scene with his friend holding onto his weapons.
Before he embarks on his mission of revenge he collects a crossbow in safe keeping with his friend Caruthers (Bill Duke) who explains the origin of the Black Skulls. Rumor has it that they were drug dealers until the scientist cooking up their LSD gave them an infected batch, driving them mad. From there, Red and his crossbow make a detour where he’s hammering boiling hot metal into a gigantic scythe (COOL!) that was inspired by metal band Celtic Frost’s logo. Red goes after the bikers and is promptly captured. He finds himself in the gang’s lair sampling a jar of the bad batch. He spirals through intense visions before battling these cenobite-like creatures, snorts their cocaine, and escapes into the night. There’s more than enough action with a chainsaw fight that Cosmatos described as “a straight up living hell to shoot.”
Aside from Cage, there are powerful performances here from Richard Brake (Rob Zombie’s 31) as the Chemist responsible for creating the Black Skulls. Linus Roache delivered an exceptionally terrifying performance as Jeremiah Sand. I am not familiar with the actor’s line of work but he appears to have spent the majority of his career as a stage actor and he took a break from acting for 18 months in India for spiritual meditation. There are distinct similarities between Jeremiah Sand and real-life cult leader Charles Manson. Manson was also a failed musician who took it very personal when he was humiliated for his musicianship. Both referred to their victim’s as pigs and psychedelic drugs played a major role in their violent routines and sexual endeavors.
The visual effects team succeeded in setting the tone for the film. Flame bars were used for numerous firelight effects with bulbs to accent the firelight’s gleam of the casts’ faces. Most of the film is saturated in an ailing blood-red filter. Long and wide lenses were used to frame each shot with the moving shots relying on wide-angle focal lengths and the long lenses used for close-ups. There’s heavy use of multiple reds, corals, and tobacco for the lens filters. I’d like to spend an hour combing through these effects but I am trying to keep it short.
This movie is pure heavy metal and even though Red loses the only thing he ever cared about the audience is left with a satisfactory ending. A smile shared between Red and Mandy after a fitting end to Sand’s