Set deep in the backwoods of the northwest of USA in 1983, Panos Cosmatos phantasmagorical horror sees Nicolas Cage’s stoic lumberjack, Red Miller, seeking vengeance against a variety of ghoulish figures following the murder of the love of his life, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough).
The couple live in a house which could be from a fairytale, hidden in the woods, all glass walls, wood and peculiar angles. Mandy herself is the fairytale princess but one with a difference. Fragile and seemingly damaged, she appears almost otherworldly, thanks to both some excellent make-up and styling together with a beautifully subtle performance by Riseborough. She loves to read horror fiction and paints women and fantastical beasts, while clad in her Black Sabbath t-shirt and with her long dark hair, she could be the archetypal horror fan.
Although there is very little dialogue in the film, Cosmatos and co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn manage to pack a punch where it does punctuate the visuals, from the heart-breaking speech by Mandy about a childhood encounter with starlings to some of Cage’s later sassy one-liners. They manage to paint an idyllic picture of Mandy and Red’s life together, a picture which is soon shattered when a sinister cult calling themselves The Children of the New Dawn roll into town.
Red Miller feels like the character Nicolas Cage was born to play, allowing him to showcase his tender, restrained side but also unleash some unrelenting CAGENESS. He is both lover and warrior, starting out cosied up in pyjamas and ending with… well… it’s quite the journey. In one scene Cage finds himself in a chainsaw battle against one of his tormentors, something which feels gleefully inevitable after the opening scenes of him swinging a chainsaw in the woods.
A swirling sea of reds, purples and dark blues, Mandy is part art-house music video and part homage to horror of the 1970s. The cinematography is also part high-art and part cover-of-a-cheesy-horror-novel brought to life. The visuals are so trippy and hallucinatory you are left feeling truly off-kilter, mixing a whole slew of styles together but staying surprisingly coherent. There is even an odd interlude by Chris ‘Casper’ Kelly, creator of Adult Swim cult film Too Many Cooks which pops up when you least expect it.
The score by Oscar winning composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who sadly passed away in February of this year, is a thing of absolute beauty, moving from delicate, shimmering guitars to an all out aural assault with bass tones heavy enough to shake loose the bowels of hell. It’s a classic in waiting.
Mandy is the batshit, Cage-filled, hallucinatory metal horror trip you didn’t know you needed.
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough