Half revenge thriller, half trippy mural on the side of a van, Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy” is the kind of pretentious horror thriller that will drive some folks crazy and others into throes of ecstasy. It’s a deliberately paced, ultraviolent, outlandishly stylish delivery system for Nicolas Cage’s wild-eyed acting style, and a thoughtful meditation about why Death Metal totally rules.
Cage stars as Red Miller, a logger and heavy-metal enthusiast who lives with a fantasy artist named Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Their lives are peaceful, filled with dreamy glances over vast horizons, watching cheesy sci-fi movies on television and reading pulp fantasy novels at work.
Into their lives drives the Children of the New Dawn, a cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, “Vikings”), who drive past Mandy on her way to work. Jeremiah decides that since all the fruits of this world are his for the taking — and they are — then he must have Mandy, so he and his tripped-out followers use a volcanic ocarina to summon motorcyclist “Hellraiser” cenobites to abduct her.
Even after she’s kidnapped and filled with drugs, Mandy isn’t going to join some hippy misogyny b.s. movement, and Jeremiah doesn’t take kindly to that. Several horrifying events later, Red is left alone, anguished, and screaming in his underwear the way only Nicolas Cage possibly can. When given the opportunity to explore his trademarked “nouveau-shamanic” acting style, and delve into the raw nerve and primal insanity at the core of the human soul, there’s no actor quite like him.
“Mandy” follows Red as he exacts brutal revenge on The Children of the New Dawn, in fights straight out of “Phantasm II,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II,” “Motel Hell” or any of the other films where there’s an epic chainsaw duel. Red goes from placidly enjoying Death Metal to living out the extremes that Death Metal explores. He crawls out of the pit of ultimate torment, forges an ax with his own hands, and embarks on a nightmare journey straight out of the bleakest album cover you’ve ever seen.
Cosmatos, who previously directed the equally hallucinogenic “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” is sculpting with music this time around. The Children of the New Dawn are his Manson Family, taking hippy rock too seriously and falling prey to the worst instincts of religious hokum: blindly believing what you’re told, ignoring the evils of self-elevation, and assuming that your most immature emotions somehow make you special.
Death Metal, as Cosmatos seems to tell us, is pure as @#$%. It doesn’t ignore evil, it confronts it directly, understanding its allure and also the pain that fuels it. And that confrontation is inherently epic, whether its simply inside our collective subconscious or literally takes the form of fighting motorcycle demons who are addicted to porn.
If revenge films are a dime a dozen, then “Mandy” cost a bunch of dimes. Cosmatos shoves a heck of a lot into just one film. The plot is straightforward but visually, aurally, symbolically, it’s a heavy motion picture that may be too much for some audiences to handle. And without a 1980s rock music decoder ring, watching it might be a difficult task.
It’s a deliberate film when it’s not an explosion of violence, and it’s in absolutely no hurry to get to what some might call “the good stuff.” To some that may seem boring, and even if you pick up on the vibes Cosmatos is laying down, it’s hard to argue with that interpretation. It wants the audience to contemplate. And unless you come in with the right context, “Mandy” might not get you in that mood.
The peaceful beauty that gets destroyed by selfish monsters is an act of destruction which, in turn, makes a monster out of a peaceful person. The allure of the perverse, the beauty of mourning, the whites of Cage’s eyes as he grins through a face covered in of blood, these are the things that make “Mandy” special. There’s a thoughtfulness at the center all this extremity, and that kinda rocks.