Eight years after his debut sci-fi horror feature Beyond The Black Rainbow, Panos Cosmatos returns with another visual extravaganza that gives licence for Nicholas Cage to be full Nicholas Cage.
Set in the 1980’s outback of America, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) and Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) enjoy a peaceful existence with their own company firmly secluded in the outback. When a van carrying a cult of Christian hippie fanatics drives past Mandy, their leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) is transfixed by her dark hypnotic eyes. He demands that his fledglings kidnap her. His followers hail four demon bikers to capture Mandy and restrain Red. Once captured, Jeremiah’s methods to win over Mandy result in embarrassment. To make an example of her, he burns her alive in front of Red. The cult leave for Red to watch his girlfriend disintegrate to ashes. When Red escapes from his shackles, he sets upon a violent path of red blooded revenge upon all those responsible.
Cosmatos doesn’t set out to win you over with plot or character development. It’s strengths lie very much in being a visual extravaganza, a hallucinatory cocktail of heavy metal and mythology. Where frame by frame is giving every consideration. Rather Kubrick one might say. There’s a healthy dosage of 80’s nostalgia seeped throughout, very much trying to revive the magnetism of 80’s high-concept film synonymous with titles such as Mad Max, Legend and Heavy Metal. And hats off to Cosmatos because he does create one hell of a visual spectacle.
The undoubted main draw to Mandy is Nicholas Cage being allowed to release his inner chaos that Cage fans adore about him and he doesn’t disappoint. Frantic, deranged, euphoric, it’s a performance that Cage gives cocaine a buzz. But for as much fun as that is, there will probably be many thinking of Bruce Campbell’s performance in The Evil Dead, and that he did it better. Furthermore, Cage feels very much a bit player in the film and is only giving proper screen time with meaning when he’s got the bit between his teeth. Linus Roche gives a strong performance as the twisted hippie maniac Jeremiah, ironically Cosmatos initially wanted Cage to play that role. Andrea Riseborough role is rather reduced to looking nothing but mystical and enchanting for a good half-an-hour to forty minutes before being barbecued. It’s a classic dead girlfriend in a fridge scenario and that trope is firmly under the scope for revision. By all means Mandy is not looking to score points on modern discourse or break trends but you can’t help but feel that Andrea could have been giving more to do.
Structurally, the pacing is a mixed bag. Scenes drag throughout but it’s unnecessarily slow getting to Cage and his path of vengeance. And when he does, he feels too much like an unstoppable force where he is almost a knife through butter going through his enemies. Cosmatos could have had a lot more fun here but instead there is more bread than meat in the sandwich. The second half of the film on Cage rage absolutely zips by. Being around the two hour mark, it’s half an hour too long unless you’re enchanted by Panos’s vision. The script was never meant to be the main component but the unbalance makes Mandy a film made by a genre fanboy, which is a bit self-indulgent rather than feeling a rewarding experience. There’s no doubt Panos Cosmatos has a cinematic eye up there with the best, he just needs to team up with a writer and then we might see something very special.