Starring Nicolas Cage. Rated 18A
Is it hyperbole to describe Mandy as a towering work of genius? Whatever the case, here’s a movie so committed to its own outlandish vision that it deserves something commensurately bonkers in return, which is what it’s received, universally, from critics and fans who have caught the film at festival screenings. If you’re of a particular mindset, then expect to love Mandy to death. It’s a condition you’ll share with Red Miller, the soulful hunk of lumberjack who, in the shape of Nicolas Cage, occupies the other side of the screen.
It’s 1983, and Red nests in a mossy Pacific Northwest idyll called the Shadow Mountains with the androgynous, Black-Sabbath-T-shirt-wearing creature of the title (shape-shifting Death of Stalin–ite Andrea Riseborough). While he’s felling trees and listening to King Crimson’s “Starless”, which has never sounded better in any context, she busies herself at home rendering their starlit union into Frank Frazetta–esque illustrations or sinking into fantasy novels. At night they snuggle in front of Don Dohler movies like 1982’s Nightbeast and softly discuss their favourite planets.
It’s understandable, then, that vengeance-crazed Red hits the road to hell and back when Mandy is murdered, in broadly the worst way imaginable, by a cult of Jesus freaks on super-acid led by a third-rate faerie folkie called Jeremiah Sand (Priest-ly Linus Roache). They shouldn’t have left Red for dead, and they definitely shouldn’t have made him watch, but that’s psychotic, messianic hubris for you.
Vancouver-based filmmaker Panos Cosmatos has done this before, pinning our eyes in 2010 with his debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow. Like that film, Mandy borrows from a (Panos) cosmology of profane influences—stoner metal, ’80s trash cinema, bad drugs—and fashions them into something that feels sacred. This solemnity of purpose is abetted by all involved, among them cowriter Aaron Stewart-Ahn, cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, and the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, and then spiked with blunt intrusions of gonzo humour. (Rainbow had the driest of punch lines; this has a bunch of them.)
But Mandy possesses all the warmth Rainbow lacked, thanks to the thrillingly otherworldly Riseborough and the madman at its centre, the fallen, late-stage Nic Cage, who pours his heart into the role with such gusto that even the ostentatious design of this most obsessively composed of films finds an equal in his intensity.
There’s so much more—including a quasi-human berserker impaled on his own boner, Heavy Metal–style animation, and a spectral tiger—but here’s a film to be experienced, not read about. Some fiction is so affecting that its world becomes sublimely real to us (Tolkien comes to mind), and in that spirit, by the time Mandy arrives at its final, heroically insane image, all we desire is a return to the Shadow Mountains, or whatever fugue-state Moebius landscape we’ve landed in, so we can do it all over again.More