In 2010 first-time director Panos Cosmatos created a surreal and grotesquely beautiful science fiction movie by the name of Beyond the Black Rainbow. Cosmatos crafted a movie with a superficially retro appearance, which, upon inspection, contained a depth of startling visual originality. Designed in the Kubrickian tradition of cinema concerned with visual stimuli rather than narrative comprehension, Black Rainbow is a dizzying, bold adventure into the realm of science fiction. A contemplative genre movie.
And while Beyond The Black Rainbow was certainly not for everyone, it found appeal among those who like to look in the dark corners and around the smudged edges of cinema for something a bit different. Even if you don’t agree that Black Rainbow succeeds in its mission, you can’t name another movie like it… until now.
In a 2011 interview with Eye For Film, Cosmatos stated that if Beyond the Black Rainbow “was a Pink Floyd album, the next one will probably be a Slayer record.” And his powers of foresight proved remarkably accurate, as he presents us now with Mandy, a full throttle, skull blistering, thrash-metal revenge movie.
The plot, although a simple tale of bloody retribution, gives us much more than Black Rainbow and makes Mandy far more accessible than its ‘trance film’ predecessor. Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live an idyllic life together in their home in California’s Shadow Mountains, until one day they cross paths with a religious cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Jeremiah decides he must possess Mandy and enlists the help of a monstrous trio of L.S.D.-bent bikers to take her by force.
Although that might not sound the most complex of stories for a two-hour movie, it’s all that Mandy needs, as Cosmatos displays an exquisite visual ingenuity to take us on a dark journey of revenge, religious entitlement and searing rage.
And Cosmatos’ eye for a magnificent visual is still present and correct because Mandy is a work of warped and twisted beauty. Dark and purple/red hued, as if viewed through a volcanic haze. He intersperses the action with animated sequences drawing influence from Heavy Metal and Moebius. Mandy doesn’t shy from the violence either. This is a story of savage actions and violent reprisals, and the red colour palette is a perfect representation of the blood and rage – there is an actual red mist!
The bikers are monstrous and inhuman, decked out in black leather, enhanced with nails and claws and all manner of savage accessory. Deranged and super strengthened from the bad batch of L.S.D they look like something spilled out of a Clive Barker movie, Cenobite refugees crossed with the wasteland marauders of Mad Max.
And Cosmatos’ interest in weird weapons manifests itself once again. In Black Rainbow it was a fearsome dagger called the Devil’s Tear-Drop and in Mandy Cage wields an outrageous, multi-pronged, silver axe/sword combo that would put a Klingon Bat’leth to shame.
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s wonderful soundtrack also deserves mention. In the same way that Sinoia Caves (a.k.a. Jeremy Schmidt) provided a classic, intrinsically linked score to Black Rainbow, Jóhannsson has provided a pulsing, ominous, foreboding piece of work that flows through the veins of the film. Featuring Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) / Burning Witch on guitar, it is Jóhannsson’s final composition, posthumously released after his tragic death in February.
As for the cast, who better to assist Cosmatos in the delivery of his berserk sophomore outing than an untethered Nicolas Cage? But let’s be clear, Cage is excellent in this movie. If you are here to laugh or look down your nose, as was the case with the final screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival recently, then this is not the movie for you. The smug mockery is best left at home, because while Cage goes for it, it’s all about context. The write-ups citing him as being at his ‘most Cage’ do a disservice to both him and the movie. He commits to it completely, as you would expect him to do; Mandy is not a movie about subtleties, but he never goes too far. He is absolutely convincing as a man in the grip of all consuming pain and unquenchable rage.
Riseborough brings an enigmatic fragility to Mandy, and a sad backstory, never fully revealed. It makes her a curiosity that proves irresistible to the impulsive cruelty of Jeremiah, who Linus Roache imbues with pure malice. A powerful man with a weak and snivelling inside, the result of religious hypocrisy left unchecked.
It’s also fantastic to see Bill Duke in this. A superb character actor with a top drawer back catalogue of classics from Commando through to Predator. He might not have much screen time, but he looks no different and his whispery, rasping delivery is always welcome.
Cosmatos has again given us a movie revelling in its own horrific beauty. It’s a feral, snarling revenge picture presented with stunning visual originality, and so much for the senses to take in that repeat viewings will be mandatory. Monstrous acts saturated with glowing, meditative colour and Cage: a savage, human apocalypse. Mandy is dark and weird and unhinged, and very, very good.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★ ★ ★★☆
Monster Fest Presents in association with Madman Films host One Night Only event screenings across Australia on Friday 21 September. Details HERE. The film opens in the US on September 14.