If there was ever a film that’s the equivalent of a Stephen King wet dream, this is it. Cage is crazy good here. This is gonzo filmmaking that’s extremely violent, won’t be accepted by mass audiences, and is maybe too unyielding. Tough to watch, easy to admire.
Imagine being untreated for a concussion then being dropped in the middle of a reddish-pink lava lamp with a handful of odd action figures, shake it around, and waking up in a Kool-Aid-coloured hypnotic nightmare from which there is no escape. That’s Mandy, a film chalk-full of crazy cult-like figures, a gremlin that spews out mac and cheese, even a sword-like chainsaw battle that is one of the most memorable scenes of any horror film in recent memory. If there was ever a film that’s the equivalent of a Stephen King wet dream, this is it.
Red Miller (Nicolas Cage at his most gonzo, no other way to describe it) is leading a happy, peaceful life with his wife, the title character Mandy (Andrea Riseborough of Birdman, Oblivion and my personal favourite, Disconnect). They live in what appears to a forested area in the pacific northwest. Then, in what must be the equivalent of a mental forest fire, all hell breaks loose.
A malevolent cult leader named Jeremiah (a terrific Linus Roache, who is not getting the credit he deserves while being overshadowed by the volcanic Cage) shows up at Red’s front door. He and his band of torturous souls kidnap Mandy. Soon Red starts on an adventure that is like a twisted version of the Wizard of Oz. He fights and kills cult members or creatures along the way, exacting revenge while then celebrating by snorting cocaine off some broken glass, taking hits of LSD, and using a dead corpse to light his cigarette. Red has gone clear beyond the dark side of the rainbow.
The film though does stall at times, never more so than in the first hour. Director Palos Cosmatos is more interested in setting up the hypnotic mood of his Kool-Aid coated poetic nightmare before sticking his foot on the accelerator. Once he does, he doesn’t let up. This film’s last hour is not for the faint of heart.
Mandy has its flaws. The film tends to feel uneven, full of strange pop-up scenes that have little to do with the narrative other than to keep things weird, and the excessive violence can be over the top. Cage though is crazy good here. This is bonkers filmmaking that most likely will never be accepted by mass audiences. In fact, it may be too unyielding to ever be a mainstream hit. At least you can say it’s fresh, different, and may even age well over time. Mandy may be tough to watch, but it is easy to admire.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.