If your response to a religious cult burning your wife alive is to forge a badass axe, hunt them down, and violently murder them all, you should take a look in the mirror because you might be Nicolas Cage. When one settles in to watch a Nicholas Cage movie, it’s a good idea to know ahead of time where the film falls on the “Cage Insane-Fuck-O-Meter” spectrum, which includes such fun performances ranging from the gleefully psychotic Castor Troy in Face Off, to his more completely off-the-rails role in the remake of The Wicker Man. In writer/director Panos Cosmatos’s horror movie Mandy, we definitely find ourselves closer to The Wicker Man end of the spectrum, which is not a bad thing, but more importantly is it an entertaining journey and worth watching?
The film follows the adventures of Red Miller (Nicolas Cage), a lumberjack who lives in an isolated cabin with his lovely wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), but unfortunately, Mandy has caught the attention of the leader of a particulay nasty band of cultists, run by a bastard of a man who goes by the name of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), and to make matters worse, Jeremiah has friends in very low places (in this case, in the form of a demonic biker gang that can be summoned forth by blowing the Horn of Abraxas). It’s at this point viewers will come to the conclusion that they are not watching your typical revenge flick, and that the fever-dream-fueled journey of blood and death that follows is a bit more off-centered than films like The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave.
Panos Cosmatos sets his film in the mid-80s — the golden age of the slasher genre — but Mandy is far from your typical slasher film as Cosmatos goes for a heavy stylized look for his little revenge story, with a heavy color palette and flashing imagery that practically assaults the viewer, and the “hero” is almost as much a cypher as the mysterious villains he hunts down. Cage’s Red Miller has very little dialogue; aside from such bizarre quips as “You vicious snowflake!” he doesn’t say much at all, letting his actions speak for themselves. Fans of Mr. Cage will certainly revel in the scenes of him screaming madly at the camera, but sadly, there isn’t much beyond that to his character.
Mandy is a blood-soaked revenge flick — and gore is liberally used throughout — but when Red Miller starts hunting down the members of Children of the New Dawn, I found myself becoming less and less engaged with the hero’s actions, as we never really get a sense of the threat level this cult actually presents. Jeremiah Sands is clearly capable of calling forth a gang of demons to do his bidding, but later he himself is on his knees offering to suck dick if Red will just spare his life, and most of his fellow members are about as threatening as a middle-aged telemarketer. The path to revenge in Mandy also seems rather backasswards, as Red starts off his killing spree by taking on the demon biker horde, whose supernatural abilities are quickly called into question as they are swiftly picked off by fifty-four year-old Nicolas Cage. He then moves on to hunt and kill the cult members, which is kind of anti-climactic when you consider the hero just took out a bunch of demons, so how much of a threat can the very human members of Children of the New Dawn be?
I went into Mandy with very high hopes — who doesn’t enjoy a film that is guaranteed to supply a large quantity of “Cage Freak-Out” moments — but at a two-hour run-time, those few moments of actual “over-the-top Cage” were not enough to support its length, and it made me long for the adrenaline-fueled film of Drive Angry, which also had Nicolas Cage facing off against cultists and demonic forces, but where Drive Angry was balls to the wall fun — with William Fichtner stealing any scene he was in — Mandy drowns us in an over-stylized look with nary a plot point in sight. What is the motivation behind the Children of the New Dawn? Is Jeremiah Sands just a sex-crazed nut who is bitter over the fact that the music industry didn’t understand his supposed genius, or is there more going on that I completely missed? Are those cenobite looking bikers actually from Hell, or are they just PCP-fueled crazies who have a thing for pain?
If all you want out of this film is to see Nicolas Cage gleefully chew every bit of scenery within reach, then Mandy will most certainly fill that bill, but if character and plot are things you find more important to your movie-going experience, you may want to pass on Panos Cosmatos’ latest film; it’s not a terrible movie, but I found it to be more full of lost potential than fun.
• Mandy’s reading material and facial scar all hint at an interesting character that I wish we’d learned more about.
• The cult leaves Red Miller alive for no discernible reason.
• Bill Duke pops into the film to provide Nicolas Cage with a crossbow; that’s nice, but it’s another clue to a history that is most likely more interesting than the story we are watching.
• Red Miller is a lumberjack who can forge an axe straight out of a Frank Frazetta painting.
• There is a chemist employed by the cult who owns a tiger, so that’s … interesting?
• Red Miller develops the ability to crush a human skull with his bare hands.
• If you watch this film, I really hope you like the colour red.
Mandy (2018) – Review
Mandy is an overly long overly stylized revenge flick with Cage swinging for the fences with his over-the-top performance, and aside from the gore, and bouts of extreme action, the film barely kept me interested.