“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones on my head and rock and roll me when I’m dead.”
Opening with the final words of a death row convict, which function as a kind of mission statement, or promise, for the unconventional slow burn hallucination of a film that that will follow. That is to say, a gory, goofily intense neon-hellscape of death cults, biker gangs, explosive tipped archery, and an epic duel with chainsaws.
After eight years, Panos Cosmatos follows up his surreal cult curio Beyond The Black Rainbow with a truckload of sophomore exorbitance. A times, it feels as if Mandy was conceived during an all-nighter spent in the wood-panelled basement highlighting passages from Helter Skelter while Timothy Leary recordings on the reel-to-reel are drowned out by the Black Sabbath blaring on the hi-fi. A top loading VCR plays Wild At Heart plays on a fading Zenith TV screen.
The Nicolas Cage performance at the centre of the film is not accidental, in Lynch cast cage as Rebel-Elvis, Cosmatos goes for Revenge Seeking Jesus. The director caters to the greatest excesses of the actor who likes to ‘go big.’ Here it is not reciting the alphabet (Vampire’s Kiss) or demolishing a billiard table (Mom and Dad), or even bench pressing a naked lady (Jade), but rather downing a large bottle of alcohol in a hot-mess long take on the way to a roaring rampage of revenge. I would say it is peak Cage, if the actor had not been doing this sort of self-caricature for the last decade. The apex, for those of you who missed it, was probably Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant.
But first: Scene setting, motivation and character building. Cage, here, is a working class, dirt-under-the-fingernails, man named Red Miller who is deeply in love with his artist wife, the eponymous Mandy. She is played by Andrea Riseborough, sporting a ripped Motley Crue tee and Jeffrey Dahmer eyewear. It is somewhere in the early 1980s and Mandy and Red live alone in a dark, bucolic cottage and talk of someday leaving their isolation.
Alas, they never get the chance as cult leader slash Jesus freak, takes a fancy to Mandy, and demands his followers to procure her for his personal enjoyment. This culminates in perhaps the best scene of the film, an extended, LSD fueled, torture session shot in a way that film seems intent on making direct eye contact with its audience. Linus Roache plays the cult leader like he channeling Alice Cooper, while the camera dissolves his visage into Mandy’s to great visual effect, all pink and red filters. Simulated digital grain and wide screen photography via Panavision anamorphic lenses make Mandy look like a 16mm blow up, imparting a dollop of Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibes and final girl promise.
However, Mandy is in fact, simply bare-bones revenge story told over a punishing 2 hour run time, where the stylized atmospherics are the main draw. In spite of a very portentous tone (aided significantly by Jóhann Jóhannsson final score prior to his untimely death), it cannot help but veer into camp when an emaciated Bill Duke shows up to act as Red’s personal Q, outfitting him with an arsenal of weapons to fight the cultists and their supernatural biker allies in the backwoods.
At one point there is a tiger in a high tech meth lab, because, why not? There is an awareness to the proceedings that may either be a draw for the midnight gore-hounds, salivating for the second act or a turn-off for the avant garde hooligan set who delighted in the mood of the first act. Your mileage may vary, but there is no denying that in any given moment, Mandy is so very Metal.