A hallucinogenic trip through a blood-soaked hellish nightmare, Panos Cosmatos' second feature is as formally experimental as it is chaotically thrilling; making for one of 2018's strangest and most interesting cinematic experiences.
There is a moment in Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow follow up in which an axe wielding Nicolas Cage, coated in blood, sniffs a mound of cocaine off of a broken shard of glass. Replicate that and you may be about halfway to understanding the kaleidoscopic head-trip that is Mandy; a hallucinogenic, cinematic injection which flows with blood and narcotics.
Andrea Riseborough is the titular Mandy, a haunted and ethereal presence who holds a strange beauty which captivates the devotion of Nicolas Cage’s withdrawn Red. Her appeal extends further when she is seen briefly by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a Manson-esque religious cult leader by way of Buffalo Bill, who develops an immediate obsession that leads to Mandy’s kidnap at the hands of a hellish biker group and results in a tale of coked-up, bloodied revenge.
One part hyper-stylistic art film and two parts ballsy genre batshittery, Mandy is as high-brow as it is low-panted. Separated by what might be the most transformative halfway point in recent memory, Cosmatos begins by channeling the neon dreaminess of David Lynch before sniffing a line and cutting his head off in a second half that can only be described as an unhinged fantastical exploitation film from hell. It’s almost as if Terrence Malick and Sam Raimi met in a lift, dropped LSD, watched Only God Forgives and wrote half of the film each in their own blood.
As a result, it is as divisive and as formally experimental as it might sound. It’s hard to figure out if Cosmatos is aiming for a gallery wall or a bleak midnight club and, to its testament, both would be fine. For every slow fade and ambiguous contemplation there is a trailer park chainsaw fight. Such diversity in one place will inspire hatred from some and a cult adoration from others, those in between will be hard to come by. Though it doesn’t always work, when it hits, it hits like a homemade, double sided axe (with a sword on the end) to the face. Mandy is by no means an easy pill to swallow.
For Cage however, it’s just another day at the secluded woodland cabin. The experienced eccentric demonstrates the heaven and hell of his performative range; drawing on his more controlled performances in the likes of 2013’s Joe prior to going full Wicker Man in its final, intoxicated act. Here it makes for the perfect Cage cocktail.
On a technical level, Mandy is an unhinged feat of pure cinematic madness. Benjamin Loeb’s cinematography is leaking with atmospheric neon but is by no means limited to its control of colour. There is a liquid density to Loeb’s movements and a touch of the iconic in his approach to compositions, framing Cage’s Red as if a figure cemented in his own pre-decided cult mythology.
An arthouse horror that fizzles on the tongue, Panos Cosmatos’ film is nothing less than a face melting, head crushing vice of an experience which refuses to release until your eyes have practically left their sockets. If you manage to search the theatre floor and put them back in though, they will be treated to a visceral and abrasive visual treat which will leave you in a psychedelic state of blood soaked bliss. Class A in its own right, Cosmatos’ Mandy provides an inescapable trip you may never come down from.
Mandy (2018), directed by Panos Cosmatos, is distributed in the UK by RLJE Films, certificate 18.