Nicholas Cage’s Red Miller seems like the kind of guy that left a lot of darkness in his past. He lives a simple life as a logger in the Pacific Northwest with the love of his life Mandy Bloom. You get the idea that before they had met Red lived a pretty raucous existence; drugs, violence, and general madness seems to be things that haunt his past. But Red found a center for his life with Mandy. Mandy is sort of this ex-hippy waif that likes heavy metal and sci fi novels, works at a small convenience store, smokes weed, and seems to have had a traumatic upbringing. She tamed the beast in Red, and he’s her protector. They live this idealistic life in the wilds of Oregon in a house where their bedroom has walls of glass(the forest provides all the privacy they need), they take midnight swims, and talk about their favorite planets as they lie in bed and look lovingly at each other.
Then one day as Mandy walks home from work a creeper van passes her, and inside that van is the local cult freaks Children of the New Dawn. Their leader, the David Koresh-like Jeremiah Sand, decides there’s a connection between him and the waif-ish hippy chick he sees walking along the side of the road and commands one of his followers to get her for him. This minion summons what seems to be bikers from Hell(imagine a cross between the Hell’s Angels and Cennobites and you’ve got a good idea of what we’re dealing with.) They’re supposedly a biker gang that took a liking to a certain kind of LSD that transformed them permanently.
What happens next is disturbing, violent, psychedelic, hallucinogenic, funny and nightmarish. Welcome to Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy.
Panos Cosmatos isn’t about subtlety or dialogue. He’s not about plot twists and feel-good moments, either. What Cosmatos is about are the visuals, the set pieces, art design, over-the-top violence, and visceral beauty thru ugly intentions. In Beyond The Black Rainbow he fixated on the late 60s new age movement with The Arboria Institute and uncovering the inner power and light, only to find that light leads to somewhere even darker. In Mandy there’s still that element of hippies-gone-bad with the Children of the New Dawn cult. I could almost see its leader Jeremiah Sand spending some time with Dr. Arboria in the late-60s. But with Sand there’s a genuine evil and sociopathic intent, where as Arboria was naively optimistic about making the world a better place. Sand takes what he wants because everything is his. He sees a girl walking along the side of the road heading home after work, well she now belongs to him. Panos Cosmatos uses the New Age/Cult backdrop to great effect, and especially in Mandy.
I found Cosmatos’ newest film to be even more visceral and visually stunning than Rainbow, in that he creates a color palate of extreme reds and blues to give the feeling that you could be looking at an album cover from some early 1970s doom metal album. The film takes place in 1983, though with the exception of certain heavy metal t-shirts Mandy dons, this film could’ve easily taken place in the 70s or the 90s. The first half of the film Panos paints a serenity in the life of Red and Mandy; their sweet interactions and innocent conversations about planets and Mandy’s upbringing, to their nightswimming and watching TV shows while eating dinner on the couch. You can tell that Mandy is kind of a space-y girl, but sweet and with an open mind to bigger ideas. Red is the gruff, bearded logger that found peace of his own with her. That first half’s quiet moments make the over-the-top violence and insanity of the second half that much more effective.
Bad things happen. Very bad things. And Red’s true nature unfolds in a hallucinogenic journey of revenge, madness, and a hell of a lot of blood being spilt. Nicholas Cage as Red is perfect. He keeps things low key when needed and turns up the wide-eyed madman when needed. The casting of Cage is genius, really. He seems to take about any less-than-stellar film thrown his way these days, so when he does take a film role that is worthy of his skills it’s an exciting thing. Andrea Riseborough as the titular Mandy Bloom does an excellent job of creating this mysterious waif of a woman. Her gaze and her near expressionless face hide a very unique and alluring spirit underneath. Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sand is everything you need in a sociopathic cult leader. He’s full of himself, arrogant, evil, and will do anything to get what he wants. Along with a talented group of supporting cast, the film is well-rounded with a talented cast of characters.
It also must be noted that this is the last score Johann Johannsson worked on before his untimely death earlier this year. He’s left his final work as his most visceral and stunning. A mixture of dark synths, heavy metal, and doom, the score works to emphasize the madness on the screen, as well as open its dark beauty to us as well. It’s absolutely gorgeous and unrelenting.
If you’re on board with Panos Cosmatos, then Mandy is a must-see. It’s a must-buy. He works his visual magic and spins up a dark fantasy fairy tale that could’ve easily donned the pages of Heavy Metal magazine or a death metal album cover. Mandy is part Mad Max, The Crow, Hellraiser, and Evil Dead II. It’s a Frank Frazetta painting come to life, with a hell of a lot more blood and LSD.