Before watching “Mandy”, you should know what you are going to get from it. As a crazy, violent exercise in style and mood, the movie intends to strike you hard by any means necessary and some of you may not like its brutal, vicious moments, but I sort of admire its no-hold-barred attitude fueled by its exaggerated style, and I will not deny that I was occasionally amused by several outrageous scenes such as the one featuring two chainsaws.
The first half of the movie is about how one ordinary couple’s life happens to be shattered by a group of evil people. It is 1983, and Red (Nicholas Cage) and his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) are living a happy life together in their nice house located in the middle of some remote forest area, but Mandy happens to be spotted by a mysterious cult leader named Jeremiah (Linus Roache) and his followers on one day. While she only passes by their vehicle without giving any attention to them, Jeremiah somehow becomes obsessed with her, so he orders his followers to prepare for their latest act of violence. First, they summon some biker gang members who are as crazy as them, and then they all go together to Red and Mandy’s house.
When Mandy and Red wake up to find themselves surrounded by these evil people, it is already too late for them, and Mandy is promptly sent to Jeremiah while her husband remains tied up on the floor. As Mandy is forced into a drugged condition, the movie goes further with its nightmarish ambience boosted by its frequently colorful lighting effects, and we accordingly get one hell of weird moment as Jeremiah tries to make Mandy into his latest sexual conquest via his mumbo-jumbo on faith and music, which is eventually punctuated in a rather funny way.
Enraged by his failure to submit Mandy to his will, Jeremiah orders his followers to kill her, and Red is forced to watch her horrible death. Once he manages to free himself after Jeremiah and others are gone, Red becomes quite determined to revenge his wife’s death, and he is not swayed at all even when his friend Caruthers (Bill Duke) warns him of how dangerous it is to confront those biker gangs and Jeremiah’s cult group. Seeing that his friend is ready to go all the way for killing them all, Caruthers provides some help to Red, and Red soon starts his quest for vengeance once he is equipped with his weapons including a crossbow.
During the second half of the movie, we are served with a number of striking moments intended to jolt and shock us. After dialing up its level of intensity with a savage action sequence featuring a degenerate thug with a very sharp object on his certain body part, the movie goes further with more blood and violence, and we eventually get that memorable scene with two chainsaws, which somehow took me back to that deranged chainsaw duel scene in “Motel Hell” (1980).
These and other things presented on the screen are not pleasant to watch to say the least, but the director/co-writer Panos Cosmatos, who wrote the screenplay with Aaron Stewart-Ahn, decorates his movie with heaps of stylish touches, and the overall result is often admirable in technical aspects. While cinematographer Benjamin Loeb did a commendable job of establishing the phantasmagoric atmosphere surrounding the characters in the film, the ambient score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who sadly passed away early in this year, constantly unnerves us throughout the film, and his score contributes a lot to the feverish qualities of the movie.
In what may be his most intense performance since “Joe” (2013), Nicholas Cage willingly hurls himself into his role. Although he has wasted his talent in a bunch of forgettable films during recent years, Cage is still a talented actor capable of good acting, and it is entertaining to watch how he gradually increases intensity as his grieving character executes his revenge step by step. Around the finale of the movie, he goes into a full manic mode as required, and he does not disappoint us at all while also firmly holding the film as demanded.
Like Cage, the other substantial performers in the movie keep their acting straight without a wink. While Linus Roache is effectively despicable in his villainous role, Andrea Riseborough, a wonderful British actress who drew my attention for the first time via her harrowing performance in “Shadow Dancer” (2012), fills her character with considerable life and personality, and her fine performance leaves a lasting impression despite her character’s absence during the second half of the film. Although he appears in only one scene, Bill Duke, a veteran character actor who also directed several films including “A Rage in Harlem” (1991), gives a small but fine supporting performance, and it is certainly nice to see that he is still dependable as before.
I must emphasize again to you that “Mandy” is not a film for everyone, but it is a well-made work which does its job as much as intended. To be frank with you, I often felt distant to all these loony moments in the film during my viewing, and I eventually got tired of its adamant excessiveness in terms of style and mood, but I remained impressed enough by its style and mood at least. In other words, this is not something you see everyday, and you may watch it if you are willing to take a chance with it.