Dutifully opening with a song by prolific prog-rock legends, King Crimson, “Mandy” is a psychedelic action horror film that relies on highly stylized and disorienting visuals to illustrate a story that is riddled in drug use, which is only a secondary aspect of the entire narrative. “Mandy” is a stunning slow burn, full of lingering tension even in moments of apparent tranquility. Nicholas Cage’s style of acting is fitting as a humbly awkward man who later falls into derangement. Andrea Riseborough as the titular character is quietly charming, and Linus Roache turns in a psychotically narcissistic performance through creeping monologues.
Living in the Shadow Mountains in 1983, Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) works at a lumber company. His girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), works a day job as a store clerk and makes elaborate fantasy art on her own time, which he admires. She spends a good amount of her screen time immersed in a fantasy novel. Soon, Mandy is serendipitously noticed by a man named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), who is the leader of a cult who call themselves The Children of the New Dawn, as he is driven past her while she walks down a road, and thus begins his obsession with her.
The movie, directed by Panos Cosmatos and written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, with music by Jóhann Jóhannsson, is a unique visual experience that rides the effects of hallucinatory imagery. There are moments of mundanity interspersed with images of surreal portions of landscapes and cosmic enormity. At times it seems they might be on another world, yet this might be a hallucinatory effect, and there is something fun about this mysterious play on perception. We’re often brought back to reality by mundane details such as a one dollar bill used as a bookmark in a fantasy novel that Mandy reads, characters watching television, and Mandy’s store clerk job.
At times it seems they might be on another world, yet this might be a hallucinatory effect, and there is something fun about this mysterious play on perception.
Cosmatos uses various visual techniques that could be considered classic by today’s standards. His use of unsourced lighting is straight out of classic 1980’s genre tropes. The movie is split up into sections with beautiful title cards like the introductory title cards of an 80’s fantasy movie. There is often a red light or red saturation indicating an evil presence or nature. A pivotal scene involving potent psychedelics makes interesting use of superimposition to establish a discomforting, illusory mood. “Mandy” relies heavily on atmosphere rather than cheap jump scares, as the slow pacing stretches out the menacing mood of certain sequences, and some of the fight scenes and inexplicable weapons are delightfully reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness”.
Along with the theme of psychedelic horror, there is a biker gang reminiscent of Hell’s Angels, but more demonic and rendered inhuman due to heavy drug abuse and unidentifiable because of their BDSM attire.
But let’s talk about bathroom scenes in films for a moment. It’s a place where a character can be alone and uninhibited, where they can do private things. You may see a character enter a bathroom and have a much-needed emotional collapse or make a life and death decision. A bathroom scene can be the most revealing scene in a film. In “Mandy”, Nicholas Cage is quiet and innocuous throughout much of the movie, humble in the sobriety of his character. He’s a bit oafish, yet gentle and comfortably in love. Shortly after the cause of his trauma, there is a bathroom scene where his performance is ignited by a range of emotions that is so satisfying to watch because it is everything you want to see from Nicholas Cage all at once.
Manipulation of reality and judgment, through drug use for the characters and through mind-bending visuals for the viewers, is the particular charm of “Mandy”. And although the decisions he makes in his acting are still sometimes awkward and unbelievably forced, Nicholas Cage’s performance is intense and cannot be overlooked. He perfectly embodies the terror of his character’s reality within an emotional rollercoaster that will reinstate your love for him.