The last time I saw a movie as batshit-fucking-insane as this year’s Mandy, a young woman was hacking apart her demonically possessed friends during a rainstorm of literal blood in Evil Dead (2013). And just like Evil Dead before it, Mandy earns its insanity by establishing it right from frame one with an epigraph containing the last words of the deceased murderer Douglas Roberts (who killed a man whilst under the influence of drugs):
“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones in my head and rock ’n’ roll me when I’m dead.”, a stanza which is evocative of the impending descent into a similarly drug induced murderous frenzy the character of Red will endure.
The plot is so exceptionally simple you can practically predict the ending from a mile away: happily in love lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and the introverted artist and convenience store worker Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough, who doesn’t have to stretch much here but is still great nonetheless), are living a peaceful existence near the Shadows Mountains of the Mojave desert in California, when the megalomaniacal cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his drug addled Jesus-freak followers and a few near demonic drug fueled psycho bikers who growl and roar like pissed off dragons, kidnap and murder Mandy, and Red sets out on an obvious path of bloodthirsty revenge. You’ve seen plenty of movie with similar plots to this one, haven’t you?
While your answer may be a resounding yes, what separates Mandy from the typical revenge thriller is how the movie is executed by director Panos Cosmatos (the son of the late George P. Cosmatos, whom directed Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Cobra), with lush and often trippy visuals occuping the space between small bouts of impactful dialogue, or gory killings at the hands of the broken hearted Red. After kickstarting the movie with the aforementioned metal mantra, and accompanied by a haunting score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson that sounds like a 2 hour theme for the arrival of an apocalypse, Cosmatos beautifully conveys the idyllic lifestyle of Mandy and Red through lush, high contrasted photography while simultaneously gradually disintegrating the visuals into a trippy style that operates like a fusion between the surrealism of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, and the nightmarishly hallucinatory trip of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, as the film’s events become more hellish and violent.
This first half of the movie is literally separated from its second half by the title card “Mandy”, followed by Red suffering an all-out emotional and psychological breakdown that allows Cage to go “full Cage” without the scene itself feeling fake or forced. Red then arms himself for bloody battle, collecting a crossbow from an old friend (Bill Duke) forging an axe that would give Thor heart palpations, and unleashes his near animalistic, boiling like an active volcano rage upon Mandy’s murderers. And yes, the rumours are true, there is indeed a one-on-one chainsaw duel, and it’s every bit as metal, badass, and grotesque as you’re wishing it to be. And no, that’s not the goriest death in Mandy.
Of course, Mandy does have a couple flaws in its blood drenched body armour. A confrontation between Mandy and the cult that provides deeper insight into their madness serves great purpose, but ultimately felt like it brought the movie to a grinding halt until this prolonged sequence finally came to a close. I also found a supporting performance by an unknown actor as a cult member who I can only assume was intentionally meant to annoy the audience, didn’t match the tone of the movie and was distractingly campy, though thankfully limited in their screen time.
Mandy may not be a revolutionary, game changing motion picture by any means, but along with the similarly slick and brutal (and goddamned great) revenge flick Upgrade, it is the kind of gloriously gory genre fare that Hollywood used to make in fistfuls, and needs to keep producing at this level of craftsmanship. So if you’re looking to spend the night all cozied up with a violent movie pulsing on your television, or screaming in your ears at your go-to theatre, look no further than the blood soaked beast that is Mandy.
*Mandy is currently in limited theatrical release and available through VOD and iTunes across North America, and features a brief post-credits sequence.