For every disposable, straight-to-VOD picture that Nicolas Cage does, he’ll usually come up with something that surprises and shocks even his most stern critics. Oddly enough, Mandy ended up falling into the same category as Rage, 211, and so many other features starring the Oscar-winning actor in that they run in an extremely limited amount of theaters while also being available to purchase or rent on streaming services. But, unlike those aforementioned titles, Mandy doesn’t come across as yet another throwaway effort from Cage and whomever he happens to bring along with him. Sure, the revenge plot is formulaic, but that gets buried underneath the visually arresting acid trip that the film’s director, Panos Cosmatos, has created for the viewer.
Cage has a tendency to display a lot of scenery chewing in his performances, but hardly has there been a time in which the film he’s in can match his performance. A lot of times, a movie he’s in can be terrible but also be fun to watch just so we can see Cage do crazy things like drink beer from a guy’s skull (Drive Angry) or punch a lady while wearing a bear suit (The Wicker Man). Along comes Mandy, a blood-soaked thrill ride that is able to be just as chaotic and strange, and syncs perfectly with Cage’s performance.
Mandy takes place in the 1983 A.D., as the film’s opening credits state. Red (Cage) is a lumberjack living in a secluded part of the Pacific Northwest with his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). They’re mostly homebodies who like to escape to reality in the sci-fi movies they watch and the fantasy novels they read. Their lives are changed when a cult known as Children of the New Dawn come and kidnap Mandy. Red, armed with a crossbow and a custom-made battle axe, seeks revenge on the cult and its leader, Jeremiah Sand (a terrific Linus Roache).
It’s a bit of a challenge to describe Mandy and why it works so well in a written review, because, on paper, it does sound by-the-numbers. But, under the direction of Cosmatos, we get a heavy metal-induced nightmare that is gorgeously shot by Benjamin Loeb. It’s one of those films that must be seen on a big, theatrical screen with the best sound quality in order to get the full experience that is displayed. It’s like a cross between David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn, but it’s able to stand on its own as this wild and crazy revenge thriller that will, most likely, have a strong cult following years down the road.
Cage is able to fully express himself without any restraints, and it’s a blast to watch him go all out. His crazy antics don’t feel out of place with the movie’s tone and are able to convey some intentional laughs that won’t be spoiled here. Simply put, when they happen, it’s a delight for the most hardcore Cage fans out there.
Mandy doesn’t dive right into the chaos. It takes its time before we are able to fully witness the bloody madness that we were expecting after all the chatter coming out of Sundance. When it gets there, it unleashes all it’s got. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, one of his last before his untimely death, is beautifully arranged with synthesizers and then goes right into '80s metal for some of the more intense moments. It’s a pity the Oscars won’t recognize it due to some silly rule about the film’s distribution method.
Watching Mandy at home is, obviously, not the same as watching it in the theater. But the folks at RLJE Films did a fine job of transferring the film to a 1080p high definition Blu-ray that has a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. All of the red that occupies the screen comes through beautifully, still giving viewers a mind-blowing experience in the comfort of their own home. The audio is a DTS 5.1 track that perfectly captures Jóhannsson’s score and all of the film’s other sounds. The special features consist of a behind-the-scenes look at the film with interviews from Roache, Cosmatos, and others involved with the movie that runs for 22 minutes. There are also some extended and deleted scenes that total up to 13 minutes. So, it’s better than most special features, but I kind of wanted more. The special showing of Mandy I attended at my local theater had a Q&A session with Cage, Roache, and Cosmatos, and, unfortunately, I couldn’t stick around for it. I was hoping it would be on the Blu-ray, but it’s not.
Mandy may not be for everyone. It is a bloody - and I mean bloody - acid trip of a film that will leave plenty of images seared into the viewer’s memory. But for those who dig the type of films that toy with your mind, this is definitely up your alley.