I don’t review a lot of “on demand” movies. I try to see most films in the theater when I can but occasionally one comes along that has a release so limited but is still so popular that I just have to seek other ways to view it ASAP. One film lately that has gained a lot of buzz is “Mandy”, an action horror film that, to be blunt, is one heck of an odd ride. I’ve had a few people ask me to review this movie and even more have recommended I watch it regardless so I finally did…TWICE…and boy was it an interesting ride. So is “Mandy” the must see horror experience everyone is making it out to be or is it more overrated than we’ve been led to believe? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “Mandy”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Mandy” takes place in 1983 and stars Nicolas Cage as Red Miller, a logger who lives in a cabin with his girlfriend and artist Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). One day Mandy catches the eye of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) the leader of a local cult called the Children of the New Dawn. Sand orders his followers to abduct Mandy and Red and attempt to woo Mandy to no avail. Embarrassed and insulted Sand and his crew execute Mandy and leave Red to die only for Red to escape and go on the warpath in a relentless and bloody quest for vengeance that not only pits him against the cult but a band of drug addicted demonic bikers as well.
Oh man where do I start with this film? “Mandy” is so creative, so inspired and so unique that I had to watch it twice and wait a few days to write this review because I needed to let it all sink in. It’s not like it’s an impossible film to follow either. The basic premise is actually pretty simple. It’s the way it’s presented that makes it feel like such a unique project. Director Panos Cosmatos clearly has a respect for the craft. He had a vision and he saw it through. “Mandy” is filled with artistic merit and sly callbacks to horror genre staples that, unless you were looking for them, you’d never even realized were fit into the movie which is how homages are supposed to be really. The film borrows concepts and ideas from the past but embraces its own identity using colors pallets, unique filters and intriguing character, set and weapon designs to truly take on a vision all its own. To put it simply “Mandy” is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It kept me invested. I never knew what to expect and that made it both fun and engaging.
Nicolas Cage is absolutely amazing in this film. The eccentric actor is known for his famous outbursts and overacting but I don’t ever remember him playing in a movie that actually benefited from his unique performance style the way “Mandy” does. Cage is completely out of his mind as Red especially in the aftermath of his on-screen girlfriend’s execution. He just leaves it all out there and it’s fantastic. His energy, his psychotic break, his ruthless bloodthirsty anger it all works and allows us to really grasp the pain and frustration this man is feeling and how desperate he is to do right by his lost love. I mean I think we see Red go through all the stages of grief in one great long shot and it’s just mesmerizing. Nothing in his world matters but vengeance. He’s got tunnel vision and is purely driven by adrenaline and rage and it’s just fantastic.
The supporting cast isn’t bad either. I found Andrea Riseborough to be delightfully charming as Mandy Bloom, Red’s girlfriend and the namesake of this film. Riseborough is the perfect antithesis to Cage choosing to utilize a more subtle approach for her character that makes her feel more innocent and her inevitable demise that much more heartbreaking for both us and Red. I also enjoyed Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sand, the leader of a crew of cultists who attack Mandy and Red. Roache brings to life a delightfully delusional individual who is clearly solidly sold on his own ego and superiority but by the end of the film we see there’s more beneath the skin and he’s more human than he ever would admit. I loved these characters. They’re unique, they’re memorable, they’re odd, they’re layered and they’re well-acted. I just enjoyed seeing this cast together and watching them all embrace unique personalities in a twisted reality.
All in all, the best thing about “Mandy” is that it’s just different. It reminded me of “Mother!” which was one of my favorite movies from 2017, however “Mandy” is more subtle with it’s significance while being much more brutal in its violence ditching shock value for just straight up awesomeness. “Mandy” feels like a movie that is hiding something more profound underneath but even if you choose to ignore the hidden themes there’s so much insane and crazy action and unique visual appeal that it’s still worth every second just for the experience alone. Just to give you a few examples of what you get from this movie: a handmade full metal ax that looks like something from a heavy metal band, demonic blood-craving bikers on LSD, a chainsaw duel and about five solid minutes of Nicolas Cage losing his mind in his underwear chugging a bottle of vodka. It’s just as cool and twisted as it sounds really and none of it feels like fan service or a desperate search for attention. The music (composed by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson), the color pallet, the shooting angles, the character designs, the setting….it all comes together to create a stylish and truly unique action horror experience that wins you over even when you’re not quite sure what to make of it all.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
On the flip side all of this craziness can also admittedly be a bit much. It’s really hard to lose track of where “Mandy” is going at times and that can be frustrating. It’s a film that demands repeat viewings and even after two run-throughs of my own I still had to do a bit of research to fully grasp everything that took place so don’t go into this movie expecting to be spoon-fed. You’ll be disappointed. Of course Nicolas Cage’s crazy approach to acting is also an acquired taste all on its own so part of your enjoyment of this film may come down to just how much mind-numbing violence and Cage’s unhinged lunacy you can stand. If you’re not patient or if you don’t take the time to invest in the story then it will lose you easily and that’s partially because the film is split into two halves. Literally the first hour is all setup and the second hour is where all the violence comes in. It’s a setup that works in the end but can be trying if you’re just expecting Nick Cage killing people from start to finish.
While I did compare “Mandy” favorably to “Mother!” I can’t say this film completely avoids the same pretentiousness the later film was accused of by many last year. I loved the style and the creative choices used to bring “Mandy” to life but because the underlying meaning of it all is so hard to decipher it’s easy to write a lot of things off as Cosmatos embellishing and showing off how unique and insightful he is as a director without actually going anywhere with it. I’ll admit the first time around I felt there were a few moments where the stylistic choices didn’t really make sense. There didn’t seem to be any purpose beyond just doing something different although I found myself respecting these creative choices in my second go around because I already knew the bigger picture. In the end how much you enjoy “Mandy” will depend on how open your mind is going into it. It will either irritate you to no end with its in-your-face “this means something” presentation or it will have you enjoying yourself through thought provoking imagery and style as you read between the lines. Either way “Mandy” provides plenty of substance and mindless blood-stained fun, but how much fun may be all in how you look at it.
“Mandy” is a crazy, fun, artistic and stylish horror action masterpiece. I can’t sugarcoat that. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before and not only had me completely invested from start to finish, but brought me back for a second viewing to try and figure out what I missed and delve deeper into the world that director Panos Cosmatos created. An unhinged performance by Nicolas Cage makes this movie all the more enjoyable finally giving the actor a story and setting that allows him to let loose without it feeling overplayed or out of place. A competent and capable supporting cast only adds to this thrill ride of a mind bender that left me speechless and in awe by the times the credits rolled. I loved it, and while it may not be for everyone and has a slight tinge of pretentiousness about it I would still recommend “Mandy” to anyone as a unique cinematic experience that shows the true potential of its up-and-coming director and its often underappreciated leading man.