Mandy review: Nic Cage ramps his crazy up to eleven in this through-back to the horror fantasy films of the eighties. 
Image.net/BFI London Film Festival

If you were to take any illicit drug and then step inside the world of the artwork from any heavy metal album circa the 1980’s, then you might be able to envision what it’s like to watch Mandy. Starring Nicolas Cage, Mandy is a hyper surreal genre movie that will have you enthralled from the get go. Cage plays Red, a lumberjack who lives in the mountains with his love Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). The pair live a simple existence, but that is put into jeopardy after Mandy catches the eye of a deranged cult leader. Things don’t end well for Red’s beloved and he sets out on a one man blood-soaked revenge mission.

Everything that you have heard about Mandy is true, it’s brutally psychedelic, schizophrenic and bat-shit crazy, but somehow it all works. Nic Cage is perfectly cast as a variation on a manic Nic Cage character and, thanks to director Panos Cosmatos, is fully unleashed. He’s all wide crazy eyes stares and menacing toothy grins, drenched in blood and seemingly having a ball. He even gets the opportunity to roar, and wield not only an almighty axe, but also a chainsaw, which forms part of an epic chainsaw duel.

Playing our villain Jeremiah Sand is Linus Roache. He’s great in the role, channelling his inner Charles Manson. Sand has many things in common with the real-life cult leader, for one he’s a cult leader, but he also revs his followers up for violence with drugs, and like Manson, is a failed musician. He’s not quite as charismatic as Manson was rumoured to be though, Roache playing him as a rather spoilt child.

Andrea Riseborough is suitably ethereal as the titular Mandy, her eyes seer into you, haunting you the same way that they haunt Red. The rest of the cast play their parts beautifully. Shout-outs go to both Bill Duke (Predator) who adds a humour injection, and Richard Brake whose one scene almost steals the film away from Cage.

The plot is rather thin on the ground, but what makes Mandy so watchable is the superb cinematography from Benjamin Loeb. His work at bringing Cosmatos’ vision to life is incredible. The film ultilises a breathtaking colour palette, each scene is bathed in a vivid red, blue or green light that adds palpable atmosphere and grants the right environment for the surreal elements to play. Whilst everything on screen is a thing of beauty and wonder, there are a couple of truly stand-out moments. The first comes as Mandy is taken; Mandy and Red are lying in bed when they are attacked by some cenobite biker-types (we told you it was a weird film). This sequence is told in the dark, illuminated by the occasional lightening-like flash. The technique really ramps up the tension and ratchets up the horror, which until that point hasn’t really come into play. The second instance is some really clever camerawork during a conversation between Sand and Mandy. There’s a close-up of Sand talking and his face morphs seamlessly into that of Mandy and back again repeatedly. It’s impossible to see when the change happens each time and is pure camera sorcery.

Accompanying the visuals, and the entire film, is a wonderfully crafted score from the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Jóhannsson is known for his work on ArrivalPrisoners and The Theory of Everything, but with his work on Mandy he really shines. There is hardly a second of screen time that isn’t scored, the music almost acting as a narrator for what is happening on screen. There’s a hypnotic element towards the start that helps ease you into a trance-like state before it kicks-up a notch when the insanity strikes. Watching Mandy feels like going to a heavy metal concert in 1983 (the year the film is set), Jóhannsson capturing the tone perfectly.

Our one criticism of Mandy is that it’s a tad too long. Genre films work best around the ninety to one hundred minute mark, and at two hours, Mandy is slightly bloated. Given the sheer insanity of the plot, it’s just too long to sustain the frenetic energy.

Director Panos Cosmatos has clearly been inspired by the likes of HellraiserThe CrowThe Evil Dead, experimental film and heavy metal music, elements of all seeping into his work. Thankfully they all blend together beautifully, taking the viewer on a seizure-inducing whirlwind ride of love, chaos, violence and humour. You’ll likely come to Mandy for crazy Nic Cage, but once watching, will fall in love with the pure, unadulterated psychedelic visuals, hypnotic score and uber-violence, the likes we’ve barely seen since the eighties.

Mandy review by Kat Hughes, October 2018.

Mandy is out on limited release in the UK now. It also screens as part of London Film Festival on 17th October. It arrives on digital, DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday 29th October 2018.

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Mandy