I’ve never taken LSD but now I know what a bad acid trip must feel like thanks to the destined to become a midnight classic, “Mandy.” Director Panos Cosmatos’ anticipated follow-up to his 2010’s mind bending “Beyond the Black Rainbow” is a cocaine-fueled trip of revenge that’s packed with bloodstained carnage and grisly mayhem — and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Set in the primal wilderness of 1983, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) lives a quiet life with his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). When a creepy religious cult passes through, their leader (Linus Roache) commands his followers to bring him the woman. His minions summon a Gwar-like motorcycle demon gang to kidnap, brainwash and eventually kill Mandy. After being forced to witness her lifeless body burned to a pile of ashes, Red becomes totally and completely unhinged with rage and sets out to deliver his own brand of vigilante justice to the weirdos.
What follows is what I can only describe as a film that feels like a project that would be born if Gregg Araki and Kenneth Anger co-directed “Mad Max.” There’s a creepy “phantasmagorical atmosphere” at play (Cosmatos’ own words) with a groovy late 70s / early 80s horror vibe, from the gritty cinematography by Benjamin Loeb right down to Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s synth-heavy original score. There’s plenty of deep religious imagery at play too (crosses bathed in red flames, the idea of blind devotion and worship) and I’m sure you could compose a grandiose thesis about these themes, but why bother when you can simply sit back and enjoy bloody disgusting scenes like an epic chainsaw fight to the death or a man’s head being squeezed so forcefully that his eyeballs pop out of his skull?
What most overexcited critics seem to ignore is the film’s dreadfully sluggish first hour. It’s much too indulgent and far too leisurely. It’s roughly 20 minutes of compelling material that’s bloated into 60 minutes of pure boredom. The film’s psychotic, blood soaked second act makes up for it though, when we finally get to see Cage go full-on into the wild-eyed lunatic fringe as he begins “hunting Jesus freaks.” Hell, he even forges his own sword to use as a killing machine.
Yes, Cage’s maniacal fury is the engine that drives this film, with the actor bringing his own brand of wildly bug-eyed insanity to the role. His performance consists of full-on insane savagery that’s dialed all the way up to an 11. He’s outrageous, he’s funny (the script is peppered with some inspired humor, including one of the funniest ever faux commercials for mac and cheese), and he’s the perfect fit for this style of gruesome midnight pulp horror. It wouldn’t quite be the same without him, and his diehard fans won’t be disappointed.