FILM REVIEW – MANDY. With Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Bill Duke. Written by Panos Cosmatos & Aaron Stewart-Ahn. Directed by Panos Cosmatos. Not Rated. 121 minutes.
Nicolas Cage’s career can be divided into films he made when he was a top star (such as his Oscar-winning performance in “Leaving Las Vegas”) and those made after his financial difficulties led him to take on seemingly every role that came his way. The latter sometimes includes some interesting if truly odd movies, like “Mom and Dad,” but then there are those that probably wouldn’t have been made at all if not for the participation of a name actor in the lead role.
Thus, we get to MANDY. Without Cage, this would have been a low-budget revenge film of the sort that was sent up in “Grindhouse.” With him, though, we get an intense performance that won’t be noticed by Oscar voters but will certainly endear him to those who thrill to this sort of fare.
Here he’s Red Miller, a lumberjack who lives with his beloved wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in their rustic house set in the woods. (The story is set in the Pacific Northwest in 1983 but was actually shot in Belgium.) They’re playful and gentle with each other, very much in love. In a film like this, that’s asking for trouble. Trouble arrives in the form of Sand Jeremiah (Linus Roache), a cult leader who takes a fancy to Mandy and orders her kidnapping. Things go from bad to worse, and the rest of the film involves Red killing the cult members, saving Sand for last.
But that doesn’t really capture the fever dream that “Mandy” is, with visuals that suggest that the characters, the filmmakers, or perhaps the audience are having their perceptions altered by drugs. Sand is in communication with what seem to be demons (or perhaps aliens) whose presence provide more entities for Red to kill. In one particularly brutal scene, Red appears to castrate one of the demons, leading to a spray of blood across his face that he wears for the remainder of the film. In another, Red has a showdown with one of the cultists as they duel with chainsaws. You know this is not going to end well. (The movie is unrated. It should be considered an R, although the distributor may have felt they were risking an NC-17 for some of the violence.)
The film is getting a limited theatrical release locally prior to going to video in October, so if this is something you want to see on the big screen, do it quickly. Of course, there’s a reason that, like most other films with Cage in recent years, that it’s not opening nationwide on 2,000 screens. “Mandy” is not aspiring to be a blockbuster. It’s hoping for cult status. This is a movie that its partisans will praise as a visceral and imaginative work and that others will deride as violent and absurd, if they are even aware of its existence.
Director and co-writer Panos Cosmatos clearly had a vision that he brought to the screen. Whether it will do for him what “Last House on the Left” did for the late Wes Craven early in his career remains to be seen.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.