“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall … and Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” –Edgar Allan Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death”
DIRECTED BY: Panos Cosmatos
FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré
PLOT: A cult is passing through the forested countryside in 1980s Pacific Northwest where Red Miller, a lumberjack, lives peaceably with his love, Mandy. When she catches the cult leader’s eye, dark beings descend upon her and Red, robbing Mandy of her life and Red of his sanity. Red mercilessly exacts vengeance upon all who wronged him.
- Mandy is Panos Cosmatos’ second feature film, and his second film to be Certified Weird. So far, all of his movies have been set in 1983.
- Cosmatos originally wanted Nicolas Cage to play Jeremiah Sand, but Cage preferred the role of Red. Co-producer smoothed things out and got the two to work out their disagreements, resulting in Cage playing the protagonist.
- The character of Jeremiah Sand was based on cult-leader Charles Manson, another failed musician and acid head. Linus Roache, shortly before being cast as Jeremiah Sand, had dropped out of a cult after its leader had a meltdown.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Mandy provides a full menu for this indeed—even if you winnow your options down to just Nicolas Cage looking crazy-go-nuts. However, the choice becomes clear upon reflection of whom this movie is actually about: Mandy and Jeremiah Sand. Mid-acid-trip-speech, Jeremiah’s and Mandy’s faces fade in and out of each other, capturing both of their haunting visages in continuous oscillation between the poles of Mandy’s mystical innocence and Jeremiah’s mystical evil.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Demonic apocalypse bikers; The Cheddar Goblin; Heavy Metal death axe
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Described by the director himself as “melancholic and barbaric”, Mandy plays like a Romantic era poem that collides violently with one helluva nightmare. Mandy‘s signposts of color saturation guide the eye along the paths of love, wrong, and vengeance while the dirgy soundtrack cues the ear like a Greek Chorus. Mandy is almost a movie to be felt more than watched. And even putting aside all the artistry, a cursory look at its basic ingredients screams “weird” as forcefully as Red screams “You ripped my shirt!”
Original trailer for Mandy
COMMENTS: Mandy, in perhaps its only convergence with convention, follows the three-act structure to a “T”, going so far as to designate each act with a title card. The opening, “the Shadow Mountains 1983 A.D.,” provides the exposition: lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and his wife Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) exude a preternatural aura of contentment. While her day job is working the cash register of a nearby gas station, Mandy’s passions are reading fantasy novels and making sketches based on what she’s read. With every small expression and action, she exudes a vivacious spiritual glow—which is unfortunately picked up on by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a failed musician turned cult leader, whose van passes Mandy while en route to his new church. The cult’s dark supernatural forces blast into the bright mysticism of Mandy and Red’s life, and so comes the rising action of the second act, “Children of the New Dawn”. By the violent finale of the titular third act, both Jeremiah and the audience learn there is more mythical power in the seemingly normal Red than could ever have been guessed.
This simple narrative structure acts as a grounding canvas, as it were, which Cosmatos covers with all the fevered hues, dissonant lines, and explosive brush strokes in his paint box. Three color schemes dominate Mandy‘s palette: red, pink-blue, and green. The first’s meaning is obvious: evil and vengeance. The screen goes crimson with the arrival of the Children of the New Dawn, and when Red is on his rampage, crimson lighting soars in his wake. The “pink-blue” is a subtler harbinger of evil. Most prominently, the encounter between Mandy and Jeremiah is filmed in that bizarre color hybrid. Jeremiah’s speech to Mandy begins, “Look at me. Look at me!” She does, and quickly discovers that what she sees is a fraud. The tones get harsher as Mandy begins her scornful laughter at the would-be messiah, as he finishes the scene shouting, “Don’t you fucking look at me! Don’t you fucking look at me!” to each of his followers. Green turns out to be the most significant, appearing only briefly on three distinct occasions: on the “Horn of Abraxas”, which brings about demonic catalysts (in the form of bikers from Hell); the “Tainted Blade of the Pale Knight”, which triggers Red’s transformation; and in the final animated dream sequence during which the spirit of Mandy extracts a glowing green jewel from the battered body of Red’s spirit animal before his final encounter with the cult.
Beyond all the careful lighting, there are countless other little touches that make Mandy further impress with each viewing. In a film with so many compelling characters, the three members of the “Black Skull” gang stand out as perhaps the most memorable trio. These unholy beasts on bikes might even be three horsemen of the apocalypse (though they are ultimately upstaged by Red Miller’s “Death” as the fourth). They are introduced after Brother Swan blows the Horn of Abraxas, and we first see them by their vehicles’ lights. Between the three riders, there are six lights, and so one can conjure three sixes (a somewhat famed number).1 There are also clever bits of foreshadowing. When we first meet Mandy, she’s drawing a “jungle temple” not dissimilar from the temple in the middle of the woods Red must find. The dead deer that Mandy discovers becomes a harbinger of her fate: soon after she is spotted by Jeremiah Sand.
And there are some just plain odd touches: the car-window gag scene between Brother Swan and one of the simpletons; Red’s almost non-sequitur “don’t be negative” remark to his friend just before he goes hunting for the bikers; and the altogether filmic joke of seemingly non-diegetic music playing when we are introduced to “the Chemist”, which turns out to be playing from the sound system in his warehouse lab. And more! The opening track is by King Crimson from their album entitled “Red.” Brother Swan quotes a Neil Young song whose lyrics appeared in the suicide note of Kurt Cobain. And smacking his own antagonist upside the head, Panos Cosmatos has Jeremiah Sand unable to do anything but lead his followers into a literal hole in the ground.
Mandy, I was told by a reviewer who seemed nearly driven to tears with emotion, was “the fulfillment of a promise made seven years ago”. I had never heard of the man who made the alleged promise—Panos Cosmatos—until this past summer when his name sprang up with every mention of the much-hyped Mandy. I only learned later that Cosmatos had made a splash on 366 a few years back with the readership-voted Certification of his debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow. And so it was with virtually no background that I watched the film unfold at the Fantasia Festival—and having seen it three more times since, I understand why it took seven years to fulfill that promise. Mandy‘s meticulous writing and filming left me struck with quiet awe. Upon the first viewing, it occurred to me that Mandy was the closest I’d seen a movie come to capturing the feeling of an actual dream. The fourth viewing reinforced that sentiment. All of Mandy fits within its own logic, and any criticism of excess is, in my opinion, dismissable: this is Cosmatos’ dream, and he translates it beautifully to the screen with an ethereal graininess of sight and sound. There’s so much one can talk about with this movie: I haven’t even touched on Cage’s moving (and bestial) performance, the haunting beauty of the film score, or how Mandy can be viewed as a meditation on the grieving process—something that Panos Cosmatos has himself struggled with for the past two decades. Mandy stands alone as a work of art; here’s hoping it’s not another seven years before Cosmatos impresses us once again.
G. Smalley adds: The prophesied Nic-Cage-kills-bikers-and-hippies-while-tripping-on-acid fantasia you’ve been waiting on all your life is here. Visually, it looks like they doused Nic Cage in red-dyed Karo syrup, posed him with a chainsaw in front of a series of blown up death metal album covers and pulp fantasy paperbacks, and filmed the action through a lava lamp lens. While I liked Cosmatos’ freshman effort, the spacey Beyond the Black Rainbow, well enough, I half suspected that it was the only decent movie the filmmaker had in him. His style seemed too austere, too laid-back, too stoned, and too nostalgia-bound for him to have a long career after the mellow buzz of his debut wore off. I was thrilled to be proven wrong with Mandy, a trippy achievement that suggests Cosmic Cosmatos might actually become the torchbearer for a new generation of midnight-minded moviemakers. The major factor in Mandy‘s success is obviously the casting of Cage: his fiery mania is exactly the contrast needed to set off this director’s dreamy delirium. They form a perfect foreground and background team. But even without Cage, Mandy would be a big leap forward. Cosmatos takes cliched pop trash—demon bikers, psychopathic cults, black metal’s pseudo-Satanic poses, ultraviolent cartoons—and turns it into mythical poetry. The first act is slow but hypnotic, catalyzing an idyllic chemistry between Mandy and Red, who spend blissful days cuddling in their Pacific retreat. Then, senseless evil cleaves their happy equilibrium, and Cage goes crazy and pours vodka down his throat while wearing a tiger shirt and tighty-whities, before smelting a wicked multi-bladed axe in the forge he apparently had built just in case of such a contingency (!) There’s also a significant strain of black humor this time (which was missing from Black Rainbow). Jeremiah asking, “Do you like The Carpenters?” to the woman he’s just abducted and doped up with LSD is creepy/funny, but it’s the Cheddar Goblin—a goofy Gremlins-like mac ‘n cheese spokesman who vomits gooey pasta onto the heads of happy children—that puts the whole project over the top for me. In the end, Mandy is not much more than a true-love-triumphs-over-narcissism story, but Cosmatos’ mastery of style transforms it into a universal epic for our junk-culture times.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…by no means a perfect film and is likely going to turn off a fair number of viewers who aren’t on board for its concentrated, unadulterated weirdness. But for those who are willing to take the ride, you’re in for a bizarre, bloody treat featuring a particularly extra Nic Cage, giving his best performance in years… Mandy is destined to become one of the quintessential cult movies, and a sort of arcane codeword amongst devotees of weird and wild films.”–Dan Casey, Nerdist (Festival screening)
“…a thing of demon energy and murderous concentration, eager to get on with the business of messing with you. It’s one of the wildest, weirdest, most exciting movies of the year.”–Kyle Smith, National Review (contemporaneous)
“…as enjoyable as Cage is here, the studied weirdness of Panos Cosmatos’s sophomore feature (his little-seen 2010 debut Beyond the Black Rainbow is similarly wigged-out) is often as trying as it is transcendent.”–Alistair Harkness, The Scotsman (contemporaneous)
Mandy – U.S. distributor RLJ Entertainment’s page for Mandy, with synopsis and links for trailer and purchase
Mandy – Japan – Official Japanese page (in Japanese) with a synopsis, trailer, cool graphics, and cast and crew bios
Mandy – Home – Official Facebook page
IMDb LINK: Mandy (2018)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Filmmaker Magazine – Discussion of Mandy and extensive interview with filmmaker Panos Cosmatos
Newsweek: the Alchemical Power of ‘Mandy’ – Comments from Cosmatos on his inspiration for and process of making Mandy
IndieWire: Cosmatos has an Idea for a Sequel – Panos Cosmatos talks to Indie Wire about an idea he had during Mandy pre-production following the adventures of Red Miller
Amulet of the Weeping Maze – The complete, 7+ minute version of the song Jeremiah plays for Mandy during their encounter, with lyrics and lava lamps
Mandy (2018) (film) – TV Tropes’ entry for the film
DAY NIGHT LIGHTS: THE MAKER OF ‘MANDY’ – Our Red Carpet interview with Panos Cosmatos at the Fantasia Festival
LIST CANDIDATE: MANDY (2018) – This site’s original List Candidate review of Mandy
HOME VIDEO INFO: Image Entertainment brought out the DVD and Blu-ray release (buy) in a timely manner. The movie is presented handsomely, maintaining the look and sound of the big screen experience — haziness, disorientation, and crisp dirges all present and accounted for.
The extras are somewhat scant, comprising 13-minutes of extended and deleted scenes and a brief “making-of” featurette. My suspicion is that the pressing may have been rushed to capitalize on the Horror Holiday; it wouldn’t surprise me if something more comprehensive were to appear on the market eventually.
Of course, you can always skip the disc: Mandy is available for streaming on Amazon (buy or rent), as well as, it seems, most other popular streaming platforms.