If a coked-up Nicolas Cage hunting devil-worshipping gimp demons with a self-forged battle-axe in an intergalactic fantasy realm, circa 1983, doesn’t exactly sound like your cup o’ tea, it might prove best to stop reading here.
Panos Cosmatos’s die-hard cult shock-er-piece has already caused an absolute firestorm overseas at both Sundance and Cannes, and for good reason. Yes, it sees the Cage himself at his most “groovy”, cementing the more DVD-friendly fanbase he’s grown more recently, but it’s also a seriously delectable bit of big-screen pulp trash too. A stylish revenge fable that’s not-so-much neon drenched as it is neon-born; a throwback that’s thrown so far back it’s an entirely separate animal from the recent 80s-wave.
For those unfamiliar with Cosmatos’s prior work (the hideously under-appreciated gem Beyond the Black Rainbow), he’s a big fan of both bright colours, and a mood-heavy, slow burn plot. And contrary to what you might be thinking based on both trailers and word-of-mouth, Mandy isn’t too different. It’s definitely an over-roided Cage-Rage for the ages, with just the right amount of bloodletting to keep the fans only tuning in for the extreme violence happy. But it’s also, in its first half, an incredibly delicate deep-dive into the nastiness of the revenge movie’s often hurried prologue.
In fact, there’s no axe-swinging, neck-snapping or drug-addled screaming for over an hour of Mandy’s probably slightly inflated two hour run time. And when the inverse cuts in, it cuts in hard (in an unbroken breakdown sequence that shows off simultaneously both the best and worst of Cage’s acting abilities), but for much of that first hour, we’re invited to do very little more than just quietly embrace the hot-pink fantasy world Cosmatos is building.
It’s a brave choice, and the alternate-reality itself is quite the spectacle (seemingly born solely from an overexposure to old-school cult VHS covers and one-too-many smoke machines) but yes, it does leave you reeling a little bit too much for the madness that follows. Because once the main bulk of the film’s plotting kicks in, it’s very much the wildest of rides imaginable.
Even the “quieter” moments that slide in between all the motorbike-chasing, chainsaw-fighting mayhem seem nuts. A plot development with a particularly well-spoken drug lord finds a leathered-up Richard Brake lamenting next to a pet tiger called Lizzie; a wild-eyed exposition dump sets off the back of a peppery Bill Duke monologue, who seemingly hasn’t aged a day since Commando; and even Cage’s own furious LSD-themed nightmares are beautifully brought to life in a fiery animation style somewhere between Hayao Miyazaki and Gerald Potterton’s Heavy Metal.
For its sins, Mandy is a pacy mess, rock-n-roll one second, quietly fantastical the next; but there’s no denying that at its height, it’s one-million-times the loudest, proudest and rowdiest movie of the year. A hardcore must for the big-screen. Cosmatos fires beyond the synth-scores and VHS-visuals of the new-80s genre wave, delivering a properly heavy, full-blooded actioner, with a lot more to say than you’d expect.