“When I die
bury me deep
lay two speakers around my feet…
wrap two headphones around my head, and rock and roll me when I’m dead”
Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. Wow. This is a film I have been waiting a year for, and while I eagerly devoured up every production still, sound byte and trailer released for marketing, none of that diminished the thunderous, neon drenched nirvana that was the experience seeing it on the big screen. Cosmatos is madly, deeply in love with 80’s horror/fantasy/scifi cinema, and after the initial stroke of brilliance that was Beyond The Black Rainbow, he has evolved into something more cohesive and specific, but no less balls out surreal and brazenly expressionistic. Set in the same austere, timeless 1983 twilight zone meta-verse as Rainbow, this one sees tortured lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) exacting apocalyptic vengeance on both a maniacal cult and a clan of demon bikers for the murder of his beloved girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). That is of course the nutshell, analytical summary you’ll see in the online rental guide. What really fills up this two hours of nightmarish bliss is a more free flowing, right brain amalgamation of everything special to Cosmatos in both cinema and music, mottled using material from his own lively imagination, wearing influences both proudly and organically on his sleeve and giving us the gift of one of the most intensely invigorating pieces of art I’ve ever seen. The rage is all about Cage and his gonzo performance, and while that is a sideshow later on, it’s certainly not the main event and the real strength of his performance lies in the restrained, beautiful relationship he has with Mandy, which only makes his crazed rampage cut all the more deep later on. Riseborough is really something special in her role too, she’s the crux of the whole deal and gives Mandy an ethereal, introverted aura that’s just creepy enough and cute enough to live up the film’s title. Linus Roache is really something else as Jeremiah Sand, the fiercely insecure, manically dangerous cult leader, it’s a career peak for the former Thomas Wayne and he plays him like a bratty failed folk musician who’s delusions have fused into his very soul and made him really fucking sick. Ned Dennehy is freakishly deadpan as his second in command, while chameleon actor Richard Brake has a key cameo and veteran Bill Duke shows up to provide both weapons for Cage and a tad of exposition regarding the Hallraiser-esque bikers. This is the final original score composed by Johann Jóhannsson before his untimely passing, and it’s one hell of a swan song. After a gorgeous, arresting opening credit sequence set to King Crimson’s Starless, its all dreamy synths, thunderclaps of metal, extended passages of moody, melodic strains and threatening drones, a composition that leaves a scorched, fiery wake in its fog filled path. One thing that’s missing or at least depleted in film these days versus yesteryear is atmosphere: Back then there were ten smoke machines for every acre of set, title fonts were lovingly hand painted and scenes took their time to unfold, rather than tumbling out of the drawer in a flurry ADHD addled action and exposition. Cosmatos is a physician to this cause and his films feel like both blessed nostalgia and an antidote to that which many filmmakers have forgotten. With Mandy he has created a masterpiece of mood, violence, dark humour, hellish landscapes, softly whispered poetic dialogue, Nic Cage swilling down a sixty pounder of vodka in his undies, fire, brimstone, roaring engines, beautiful music, a tiger named Lizzie, and a pure unbridled dove for making the kinds of films I want to see at the multiplex. Best of the year so far.