Mandy (2018)

Directed by Panos Cosmatos; Written by Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn

Nicolas Cage carves up Jesus freaks and gimp suit-wearing, ATV-driving, forest-dwelling demon bikers.

Ludicrous in every way and entertaining in equal measure, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is the late-night TV fever dream you catch by mistake as you’re flipping channels, and leave you wondering the next day whether it was all real. 

Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller, a lumberjack who goes on a blood-crazed rampage to have his revenge on a gang of  “jesus freaks” after they invade his home one nightmarish night and murder his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough,) an innocent waif who writers Cosmatos and Stewart-Ahn speedily detail in the film’s first 15 minutes and position as the redemptive light that dispels the unsaid darkness that lives in Red.

But blissful domesticity can only last for so long. A cult leader has his eye on Mandy, and he enlists the help of some gimp suit-wearing, ATV-driving, forest-dwelling demon bikers in order to capture her for his harem. What follows is enough to break anyone, Red included. 

It’s a performance that at this point only Cage can believably deliver. It requires the overacting of a mind-melted man where Cage has the physicality to match the violence, full commitment to the theatricality of the 80’s horror camp, and the stardom gravitas to provide an anchor in a film that is little more than grotesque grindhouse spectacle, a genre tribute to VHS-era supernatural gore-smut.

The rest of Mandy is Red exacting his vengeance, and as the means to this end, Cosmatos equips Red with every instrument capable of inflicting slow, but excruciating pain, be it a crossbow, his fists, a chainsaw, or some home-forged contraption I can only really describe as Satan’s can opener. All of it is put to good use in this primeval revenge tour that has no other motive than to inflict as much physical wreckage as possible, and Red does so with a biblical heat that cleanses him of any sin he commits in the process.

A synth-turned-metal-thrash soundtrack by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson rounds out the genre exercise, and Mandy entertains as the violent pandamonium it is. It’s a rowdy film you’re meant to wince at, commentate, hoot and holler to, and laugh at when its characters deliver lines like “they cut through bone like a fat kid through cake” and “you’re a vicious snowflake!” 

You ever seen those t-shirts where a wolf howls at a supermoon that rises above the tree line? Mandy is like that in its borderline campiness and supernatural undercurrent. But instead of a wolf’s raised head, it’s Nicolas Cage with his blood-covered face contorted into an anguished death mask screeching in anguish in front of that same moon that now runs dark red. It’s an image that’s hard to shake. 

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