KVIFF 2018 Review: ‘Mandy’ is the Acid Trip Nic Cage Masterpiece we Needed
The best film I’ve caught at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival - and one of the best I’ll see all year - is the deranged, trippy, and utterly indescribable Mandy which stars Nicolas Cage as a lumberjack who exacts gruesome revenge on a sadistic religious cult.
That basic premise is enough to hang Mandy’s entire narrative around, but it doesn’t even begin to get into what an out-there experience this is. Presented in KVIFF’s Midnight Movie section, this is a film that better defines that genre than any other, and exists alone in its own otherworldly dimension. Beyond the Black Rainbow, director Panos Cosmatos’ wonderfully out-there debut feature, looks downright conventional next to this.
Cage’s off-the-wall performance is what audiences will leave Mandy talking about, but for half the running time the film belongs to Andrea Riseborough’s titular character, an artist who digs pulp fantasy fiction and heavy metal and lives in a glass-walled cabin in the middle of the wilderness with boyfriend Red (Cage).
Cosmatos drenches the first half of the movie the kinds of heavy blues and deep reds that lit classic Dario Argento films, with Riseborough’s soulful Mandy at the center of an expressionistic fever dream. It’s an unusually protracted setup that gives the second half of the movie more all the more emotional bite. And it’s all so gorgeous to soak in, regardless.
Mandy also catches the unfortunate attention of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, in the film’s third standout performance), a wretched folk singer and leader of a religious cult called The Children of the New Dawn. Sand becomes fascinated with Mandy after a passing glance, and decides that he must possess her.
But Sand’s browbeaten followers (Ned Dennehy, Clément Baronnet, Olwen Fouéré, and Line Pillet, whose expressive faces light up the screen) don’t just kidnap Mandy themselves: they summon a group of terrifying meth head bikers from the pits of Hell, who look like darkly-lit Cenobites from the Hellraiser series, to do the job for them.
The second half of the movie turns into the wigged-out Cage-fest we’ve been expecting, with Red battling the bikers from Hell and religious cult freaks with crossbows and chainsaws, briefly assisted with weaponry from old pal Caruthers (Bill Duke) and mind-altering drugs from The Chemist (Richard Brake).
Mandy pulls a 180° shift in tone at the midsection with one of the most diverting sequences in the film: after Cage’s Red survives a night-long traumatic ordeal, he wanders back inside his cabin home to inadvertently catch a ridiculous TV commercial featuring the Cheddar Goblin, a pasta mascot who vomits macaroni and cheese on top of adoring children.
It’s a mindless banality that stands out amidst the shocking events that have just occurred, an insightful commentary on the drastically disparate thoughts passing through our minds at any given moment. “Huh... Cheddar Goblin,” Cage deadpans.
That’s immediately followed by a minutes-long static shot of the star screaming in primal agony while downing a bottle of vodka in the bathroom. It’s so over-the-top it draws laughs, but so raw and real it still hits a deep-down nerve. Regardless of the bad-movie baggage Cage brings to the role, I cannot imagine another actor in the history of cinema managing to tick both boxes.
The rest of Mandy is a bizarro-world LSD trip of revenge and redemption that drags us through landscapes and sequences unlike anything we’ve seen before. Cosmatos filters every shot in this film through some unique gaze, and climactic scenes, in particular, recall some of the out-there weirdness of Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. And it’s all set to a pounding, pulsating score by Jóhann Jóhannsson that crawls under your skin and doesn't leave.
I don’t know if any description of Mandy can accurately get across the head-trip experience of watching it, but I do know this: it needs to be seen to be believed. A bloody and brutal midnight movie revenge fantasy that works both as a pulpy B-movie and a piece of trippy high art, Mandy is a cinematic experience unlike any other.