MANDY ***** UK/Belgium/France/USA 2018 Dir: Panos Cosmatos. 121 mins
The second film from Panos Cosmatos, after Beyond The Black Rainbow is a hallucinogenic melange of apocalyptic imagery, unexplained cosmology and tribute to the best (or worst) excesses of exploitation cinema.
Plus Nicolas Cage. With a chainsaw. And a Klingon War Axe.
Good Nicolas Cage. These days you’re used to the gentle mockery of a former Oscar winning actor who became a living meme. Here though, his florid passionate anger has context and real drive, couched in what becomes a beautiful, brutal quest for revenge.
With a chainsaw. And a Klingon bat’leth. Which was inspired by the logo of the thrash metal band Celtic Frost.
Cosmatos’ stylings are evocative of the paintings made by the title character, an ethereal yet also sensual performance by Andrea Riseborough who manages to balance fragility and a sense of self which is what brings her to the attentions of the cult leader, Jeremiah Sand, played by Linus Roache, embodying the failed narcissist rock star turned cult leader and his pathetic, almost pitiable group of followers. The period setting of the 1980s is conveyed in every image onscreen and in the incandescent soundtrack by Johannsson, a posthumous triumph which adds an unforeseen melancholy.
Before the arrival of the Children of The New Dawn, Red and Mandy enjoy a relationship which is evoked with the true language of relationships – the unfinished sentences, tender entreaties and a gentle, sometimes ungainly passion which summarises the disparities between the low-key artistry of Mandy and the working class pragmatism of Red. Although much of the promotional material focused on the more outre elements, akin to the fevered heavy metal album covers which inspired the overall aesthetic, Cosmatos’ skill lies in setting up the horror to come by a careful juxtaposition of what Red seeks to avenge.
However, once the demon bikers arrive, Cosmatos cranks everything up to eleven. He locks the doors, turns the volume up and lets you suffer whatever empathy you have for these downcast but beautifully realised people.
Red’s inevitable rampage has a carefully observed wryness to it, studded with a knowing, stoic cameo from Bill Duke, a B-Movie icon and stalwart character actor who would exude menace as a kindergarten teacher, before the violence begins. Cosmatos opens up the throttle, trusting to a narrative velocity which does not patronise the viewer. His cosmology has gaps meant for you, the viewer to project your own ideas of where and what these things are and want. On one level, it could be sadistic, drug-fuelled psychopaths under a mutual umbrella of corruption and exploitation, but Cosmatos films them as though we were watching a livestream of a new circle
of hell, close enough to Heaven to make the anguished Red’s actions something to cheer for.
Mandy washes over you, with the sweeping saturated colours and the intense score all serving to make the inevitable violence as aesthetically pleasing as it is satisfying. Long before the final LSD-fuelled descent into the final, brutal vengeance, you will be breathless and aching, eyes burning from the juxtaposition of beauty and horror which Cosmatos plays with a virtuosity glimpsed in his previous project, Beyond The Black Rainbow. There are the chill intellectual touches of Kubrick mingled with the anamorphic glory of being shot on the Arri Alexa, and yet it satisfies in the ways previously touched on by Rob Zombie and S. Craig Zahler.
With the release in a blu-ray format, this film will stay with you long after the fade to black and the last note sounds. Descend into the gonzo revenge afterlife of Mandy, and you’ll not regret the trip, even if it is one way.
Review by M B Blissett