Directed by Panos Costamos
Mandy is a lean and mean revenge thriller, light on plot but heavy on motivation. Like with John Wick the need for revenge is made clear with only a few storytelling beats, however the film takes its time getting there, choosing instead to emphasize the acid trip of a world created for this story. Our journey through this world is quite straightforward and unusual. Mandy is some combination of John Wick, Deliverance, the Manson family, LSD and the visual aesthetics of the inside of a lava lamp.
Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller, occasionally sullen, distraught or manic. He will fight his way through demons and the worshippers of a Charles Manson-like cult figure while consuming LSD and Scarface levels of cocaine. This single-minded revenge trek is in response to the sudden, brutal murder of his wife, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), at the hands of that Manson figure, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache).
Red and Mandy have a fairytale existence in their cabin deep in the forrest. He thinks maybe they should leave, and she thinks there could be nowhere more perfect. They live in a quiet, peaceful 1983 bliss, but the movie’s score, cinematography and unusual rhythm tell us that doom awaits.
Later Mandy will walk by the caravan of San and his followers, and their exchange of glances tell us he has sinister aspirations, but even before then there is a careful observation of life, death and the inner workings of the mind. I’m mostly just referring to the long takes of Red and Mandy’s late nights on the couch, the unmotivated cuts and fades to later moments in time and a long moment that has Mandy stare curiously at a decomposing deer. With the light flares and deep reds and blues of the visual aesthetic, director Panos Costamos establishes early on that this world is unlike our own.
This idea becomes more cemented when Red and an old friend, Caruthers (Bill Duke, who seemed to me to bear some resemblance to Scatman Crothers in The Shining) discuss the demons that kidnapped Mandy in rather frank terms. It matters not so much who they are, just what they did. When Red comes face to face with these slimy demons later in the story he has disgust for what they’ve done and less fear of what they are.
There is a supposed backstory behind these motorcycle-riding demons who live deep in the forrest and whom the general population might have some awareness of, but all that matters is that they’re evil or something like it. Red will use a variety of gloriously over the top weaponry, ranging from a large axe to multiple chainsaws, to mow down these faceless enemies before making his way to the ones we’ve met, the followers of Jeremiah Sand and Sand himself.
There are only as many antagonists as there are in order to give Red something to do to fill out the movie’s runtime. He works his way through them like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man or any video game character in any video game. Their storytelling purpose is only to find new, more creative ways of dying. Each death more or less successfully outshines the one before it.
It’s never a question of what Red should be doing or, once he decides to do it, whether he’ll win. We know how this is going to work out, and the delight comes in wanting to see it happen.
Mandy does a wonderful job establishing the evil forces that be and making us root for that demise. It’s simple enough to say that Jeremiah Sand abducts Mandy (through the hired hand of the motorcycle demons) and kidnaps her when she doesn’t volunteer to join his “family,” but the movie takes its time telling this part of the story.
Sand’s followers force LSD and the venom of a strange creature upon Mandy, leading to a drug trip that felt to me like I was as high as she was. It worked incredibly well, and it was eerie and disturbing and everything else it was meant to be. Shocking too. It’s hard to predict where that sequence is headed.
All of this establishes just how disturbed and disgusting the villain is, and it works like the lone trek up to the starting point of a roller coaster. To feel that subsequent rush and release we have to take the time to pull back, like the tension put on a slingshot.
I’m not sure if you can call Mandy fun, but it’s definitely entertaining and surreal. There are a few shocking moments and images which stand above the rest, and the film is incredibly committed to its own aesthetic and strange sense of humor. Mandy is lathered in a darker streak of that 1980’s nostalgia, in a sense asking you if this is really what you long for or remember about your childhood. The music sounds about par for the course (like with Stranger Things) as are the text screens and lens flares, but Costamos uses all of this imagery to create a disturbed nature that those other 1980’s throwbacks seem only to hint at.
Mandy is surreal, dark and eventually kind of fun. It’s a story that could be told in half the time but which uses the other hour as a good simmer, enabling the emotional/visceral impact of the last half of the movie.
Up Next: Last Year at Marienbad (1961), The Candidate (1972), Boomerang! (1947)