This review was originally part of our Sundance 2018 coverage
PLOT: 1983 A.D – the Shadow Mountains. Red Miller (Nicolas Cage)’s idyllic life comes crashing down when his beloved girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) is kidnapped by a demented cult, sending him on a bone-chilling quest for revenge.
REVIEW: MANDY is director Panos Cosmatos’s long-awaited follow-up to BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, to which it shares some thematic similarities, specifically the fact that it’s set in a kind of apocalyptic alternate version of 1983. While the premise is nothing new, Cosmatos’s style makes MANDY an utterly unique genre entry, one which plays out like the demented love child of Alejandro Jodorowsky and perhaps Cosmatos’s own father, the great George Pan Cosmatos (COBRA, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II).
It’s actually a risky bet for a midnight movie at Sundance, running a good half hour longer than typical for the genre, and also having an ethereal, slow-burn of a first act, one that a less compelling director might not have been bold enough to include. This atmospheric start is important as it acclimates you to this strange, fantasy world, which looks plucked from the covers of the fantasy paperbacks Mandy reads in her shops.
It also puts MANDY into something of a different slot as far as midnight movies go, with this showing some art-house leanings in the first half. It comes together in a striking package, helped by the neon lensing by Benjamin Loeb, and the excellent score by Johann Johannsson, and a sharp cast, with Riseborough wonderful in a part that seems to channel a little Sissy Spacek circa CARRIE and 3 WOMEN. Of course, hardcore fans will no doubt be waiting for the hard-core Cage-rage promised by the posters and still images, and while it takes awhile to happen, once it does it’s relentless.
The last forty minutes of MANDY ranks as maybe Cage’s most hardcore trip into the dark side yet, with it kicking off with a scene when a badly beaten Red chugs a bottle of whisky while veering between tears and absolute rage at his predicament. The action is off-the-wall, with him taking on a demented trio of bikers from hell that do the bidding of Linus Roache’s cult leader, who’s become obsessed with Mandy, and wants her for himself – putting him on the receiving end of the patented Cage rage.
It’s unrelentingly brutal, but often hilarious with Cage pausing mid-murder to do a bump of hell-coke off a piece of broken glass, and maybe making a bit of a mistake dipping into the cult’s LSD supply, although hey – it helps him do his stuff. He even pauses to weld himself a cool scythe and get some weapons from the great, always deadpan Bill Duke.
Given how uncompromisingly strange it is, Cosmatos’s film won’t be to all tastes, and a wide run seems unlikely as there’s nothing even remotely mainstream about it. That said, one hopes a cool company will snag it and give it a solid theatrical arthouse run, as it’s one that’s absolutely meant to be seen in that environment. This isn’t one for a small-scale VOD run. It’s a cult classic just waiting to happen, and, along with MOM & DAD, a really strong piece of work by Cage, who – for lack of a better word – fiercely commits to his part.