FANTASIA – MANDY’s CANADIAN PREMIERE melted my brain
DIRECTOR: Panos Cosmatos
WRITER: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake
A lumberjack seeks revenge on a group of religious zealots, and their dark demonic biker gang, after his metalhead wife gets taken by them. If that doesn’t sound to you like the greatest genre plot ever, why are you still reading this?
MANDY is the latest mind melting PANOS COSMATOS flick. It’s also the latest NICOLAS CAGE vehicule where he screams a lot and acts batshit crazy.
Okay, it’s actually more than that. It’s a metal album cover come to life under the guise of a home invasion tale turned revenge flick… featuring dark evil! It’s an utter visual feast consisting of trippy coloured lighting effects right out of DARIO ARGENTO’s colour palette. It’s really fucking weird and I’m not quite sure how to wrap my head around it. I honestly think it melted my brain. This film definitely took me a while to digest, and almost a week later, I’m still digesting it.
It starts off with a poem about rocking out. Right off the bat, they want you to know it’s a metal film. And it is. It’s very much a metal film. It’s so very fucking metal. ???? ???? ????
MANDY takes place in 1983, much like the director’s previous film BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW. COSMATOS, who presented the film at FANTASIA FEST for it’s Canadian Premiere, stated that this film was very much a companion piece to BEYOND. The entire look of the film really does feel right out of that 80s era. It has cinematic film grain. It has a catchy and synthy film score. It has people wearing vintage metal shirts and reading fantasy paperbacks. It has trippy title cards (the main one, gleefully pushed, by COSMATOS, as far into the film as possible). It lives and breathes 1980s. This film is totally a throwback to another time and it does so looking epic as all hell.
At its core it’s a love story between CAGE and ANDREA RISEBOROUGH. CAGE plays Red Miller, a badass lumberjack with ass kicking skills. He’s handy with a bow and smelts badass weaponry that helps him kick evil’s ass, all in the name of the titular Mandy, his cool as hell metalhead significant other that’s into those aforementioned fantasy paperbacks and staring at the stars. She’s his entire world.
Which brings us to the villains of the story, the Children of the New Dawn, a ridiculous yet murderous, drugged out hippie cult with a small group of weirdo followers and a washed up musician as the figurehead, Jeremiah Sand, played dementedly by LINUS ROACHE. Jeremiah spots Mandy as his gang of Christian burnouts are cavorting around in their van. He needs Mandy, because he’s a self-absorbed evil douchebag, but Mandy don’t play that game.
If that’s not enough, there’s a dark biker gang acting as the cult’s muscle. They did way too much acid and now look like they’re right out of fucking HELLRAISER. They’re oozey and weird. One guy has a knife for a penis. Yeah, I’m not making that up. They may also have weird magical dark powers, but I digress. It just gets weirder from there.
None is the weirder than NICOLAS CAGE. This film is so very much a NICOLAS CAGE movie. They actually sent him the script early on, but his manager passed on it. Luckily, Producer ELIJAH WOOD convinced him to get on board when CAGE mentioned to him that he wanted to do “more outlandish stuff”. Outlandish is an understatement of the year. COSMATOS mentioned that CAGE was their dream actor who went above and beyond. After seeing this film I can definitely say the beyond part is right. This is so beyond any level of crazy CAGE has ever put on screen.
There’s one scene where CAGE, playing Red, is in a bathroom yelling, raging, guzzling down vodka / pouring it on his wounds, and repeating said actions, to various degrees, over and over and over for what seems like forever. It felt like 3 or 4 minutes. It’s very strange and awkward… yet very NICOLAS CAGE. The director says he wanted that scene to feel like a one act absurdist play about a man’s mental breakdown right in the middle of this movie. Well, he succeeded, because it’s there in all it’s unsettling and weird pain-fueled glory. It’s a tad trollish, oddly funny, yet very heartbreaking all at once. It feels like that scene in A GHOST STORY where ROONEY MARA eats a cake for 5 minutes straight… But somehow even weirder. This entire film sometimes feel like it’s main purpose was to birth a kajillion CAGE memes and CAGE GIFS, and I mean that in the best way possible.
And it’s not just CAGE that delivers memorable performances. RISEBOROROUGH is wonderful as the film’s raison d’etre, Mandy, a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails, metalhead that feels like the cool gal at a party that you want to immediately be friends with. She was actually inspired by a real Metalchick that worked at a record shop that that the director remembered when growing up. Mandy is this movie’s lifeblood. The central element. The reason you cheer on Red as he chops, maims, and dismembers the evil is because you give a shit about Mandy. You want Red to be victorious, because you like Mandy, too.
ROACHE is great as the washed up and weird Christian cult leader, Jeremiah Sand. Samd immediately comes off as menacing and disturbing. He’s always giving off major creepy douche vibes. There’s an Intensity in his madness. He’s so very hateful but has this weird pull. I feel that he’s definitely inspired by Charles Manson and Jim Jones. This creepbag feels all too real.
There’s a great moment where Sands has Mandy in an intense hypnotic ramble as he proselytizes on his religious culty gobbledygook. You see an extreme closeup of ROACHE’s face that slowly dissolves and fades into RISEBOROUGH’s, Both faces are simultaneously shown at once as if they’ve melted into each other in such psychedelic nightmare fuel that it’s only heightened by these two actors’ superb performances It’s eerie and scary but also quite lovely. And then things get really weird.
There’s a lot of that. This film is as beautiful to look out as it is freaky and weird and violent and gory. Yes, this film has epic and RPG-esque fantastical dreamlike landscapes… in addition to chainsaw duels, severed heads, and lots of drug use. Amid that weird violent juxtaposition are unique displays of wondrous surreal locales. This film looks like some mythical forestry wonderland, but it’s actually Belgium. Who knew?
There’s heavy world building in this film. It resides in its own weird universe of bizarre WTF-filled ideas of fantastical relics and psychedelic mythology. It has unsettling and dark animated dream sequences that feel like they were torn right out of 1981’s cult classic HEAVY METAL.
There’s even an ad within the film for “Cheddar Goblin”, and there’s no way I can adequately describe in writing a puppet vomiting macaroni and cheese on children… suffice to say, that happened. You’ll definitely need to watch it to learn more. Yeah, this film’s a trippy trip, alright.
On a bittersweet note, MANDY has one of the final film scores by Iceland’s JOHANN JOHANNSSON, who passed away earlier this year. It’s a bombastic piece of music that simultaneously channels synthy dark wave and brooding doom metal. COSMATOS mentioned how JOHANNSSON reached out to him wanting to collaborate. COSMATOS’ only direction was that wanted it to feel like a rock opera. He wanted it to evoke metal. He wanted it “to sound like you were a kid in the back of your brother’s Trans Am while being simultaneously scared and excited”. To which JOHANNSSON replied, “I know exactly what you mean!” It’s a hell of a score to end a great career on.
On a whole this film feels like a weird fever dream. A bizarre bootleg videogame. A really scary, yet engaging acid trip. A creepy forbidden music video. A doom metal album cover come to life in flesh. A drug fueled Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It’s everything and everywhere.
A lot of those looks and feels have to do with the director admitting to being very A.D.D. and liking and needing a film to have frequent colour shifts and unconventional film structures to keep him interested. COSMATOS explained that he would resent a film if it looked the same all the way through, and needs to have it constantly evolve and mutate and stay fresh… and this film definitely does that and more.
Mandy is an odd yet very entertaining film. It feels very massive and the sold out FANTASIA FEST crowd absolutely loved it. SUNDANCE raved about it, so did most of this fest… but I’m still not entirely sure I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would, or as much as I wanted to. I did enjoy it, though. I just don’t know if I liked it… but I do know that I’m so very glad that it exists.
MANDY is due in theatres on SEPTEMBER 14TH