Mandy is many things – a psychotronic romp, a religious cult kidnapping caper and an excuse for its star to redefine what over-the-top means, but I’m not sure it’s a film for midnight. This is a perfect 10pm film, where you’re not quite at the witching hour and your circadian rhythms are better attuned to its initial deliberate pace and stylistic flourishes.
Programming decisions aside, this latest work from Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) offers an opportunity to not only revel in his surreal visual style but to fully embrace the lunatic performance by Nicolas Cage. The “Cage Rage” has become its own kind of cliché , with the performer able to provide wide-eyed results to fans of his shtick. That comes out, of course, but only after the first few acts where we’re treated to moments of pacific quiet.
Red Miller (Cage) and his titular ladyfriend (Andrea Riseborough) are enjoying quiet hugs in their cabin in the woods. While out on a stroll a van of cultists led by Jeremiah (Linus Roache) become interested in having her join their group whether she likes it or not, leading to inevitable confrontation and plots of revenge.
Storywise there’s not a lot to hold onto, but Cosmatos’ gift lays in setting mood rather than such trivialities as plot. The film’s strength lies in its attenuations, drifting from dreamlike quiet to dialed-up-to-11 bonkersness. When the top gear does kick in we’re gifted with some prime Cage insanity, doubling up on his Wicker Man-ic diatribes with a bit of the slapstick borrowed from Raising Arizona. There’s something poetic about watching him writhe, and it’s a rare breed of actor that convincingly can engage in a chainsaw duel with simultaneous attributes of dramatic precision and comic abandon.
It’s fascinating that Cosmatos originally wanted Cage for the Jeremiah character, and his take as a full frontal Mansonite surely would have made the film a different beast. It’s a testimony to the actor’s instincts that he was right for the other role, better allowing for the mix of tone to play out convincingly.
There are moments of psychedelic surrealism that push at audience’s patience, but when placed against the more muted moments it all somehow ties together. It feels at times like there’s seven films taking place at once all atop of one another, making all the more remarkable that somehow in the end one is able to hold on for the ride.
Despite the appalling absence of Manilow to truly make good on the promise of the title, Cosmatos’ film make prove to be as cultish as those sycophants that surround Jeremiah. Riseborough provides the film with a base coat of oddness only to have Cage come about and arterially spray lunacy atop. Mandy is bravura batshittery, and despite being slightly overlong and specifically overwrought for those that enter into its headspace they may never be quite the same again.
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