About one hour into Panos Cosmatos’s horror-fantasy-thriller Mandy, I thought: “Nicolas Cage is surprisingly… subdued.” Playing a gruff logger deeply in love with the titular dreamy metalhead (Andrea Riseborough), with whom he lives in a mystical, misty woodland in the 1980s, Cage had seemed positively mellow.
About 10 minutes of screen time after I had this thought, Cage was alternately screaming and swigging from a bottle while stomping around a bathroom in a T-shirt and tighty-whities. Let the fan service commence!
The basic plot of Mandy, despite its fantastical flourishes, is nothing you haven’t seen before: Contented middle-aged man witnesses a hideous act of violence against his beloved; very discontented man employs an overabundance of esoteric weapons to wreak awful revenge.
The bad dudes (and ladies) in this film are way more entertaining than usual: a drugged-out, dysfunctional hippie cult headed by a failed psych-rock star (Linus Roache, doing his best to out-ham Cage) and the cenobite-like bikers he summons from darkness.
But what really distinguishes Mandy is its art-film slowness as it gently builds a world around Riseborough and Cage. The art direction is joyously unfettered by subtlety—the whole movie mimics a series of vintage metal album covers, and heavy filters, slo-mo, motion blur, trippy superimpositions, and animated sequences abound.
Mandy herself is half oneiric goddess, half vulnerable loner, and Riseborough—who’s shown exceptional versatility in The Death of Stalin, Nancy, and Waco—possesses a fascinating spookiness that makes you forget she’s a cliché.
But don’t worry, lovers of Cage and the excess he represents: Once the vengeance plot revs up, you get all the eye-bugging lunacy you’ve come for. There’s a chain-saw duel, a creature with a knife-penis, some spectacular beheadings and cranium-splittings, and a bouquet of nonsensical one-liners (“You’re a vicious snowflake,” “You RIPPED my SHIRT” “I AM YOUR GOD NOW!”).
Is there anything behind Mandyother than a desire to make audiences yell “That was metal as FUCK!” and provide fodder for crazy Cage YouTube compilations? I doubt it. But it’s so satisfyingly fringe, so committed to its silliness, so very US-Belgium-coproductionesque that I can’t help but love it.