Nicolas Cage stars in the fantasy horror film Mandy as a shattered man seeking bloody vengeance. Filtered through a euphoric lens of surreal visualizations and gruesome violence, the film is a slow burn journey into hell that only rewards those patient enough experience this waking nightmare. RLJE Films' Blu-ray provides an impressive HD presentation given the director’s visual aesthetic and a limited set of bonus features sure to please fans of this insane masterpiece. Highly Recommended
“You exude a cosmic darkness.”
Growing up in a time when movies followed a simple progression from trailer to cinema to VHS, there was always a sense of heightened anticipation. The payoff being your chance to catch the movie in a theater or perhaps stumbling onto it channel surfing one night. With the advent of streaming services and VOD, there are new and exciting ways to get movies into your eyeballs. Mandy should be a low budget straight-to-video horror film that few would champion outside of established genre geeks even with a mega-star like Nicolas Cage. Where Panos Cosmatos’ film succeeds is in making a trippy low-budget horror film into an experience rather than fodder for an abandoned streaming queue.
Mandy is the new midnight movie to see with your weird friends.
In 1983, logger and stoic Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) lives with his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in a secluded cabin. The soulmates carry on with their day jobs but retire to their rustic dwelling to watch old horror movies and revel in the stream of sci-fi/fantasy art that Many produces. Their bond is unbreakable and belies the simple lives of a grocery clerk and a logger. Out one day communing with nature, Mandy catches the eye of failed-rock-star-turned-hippie-cult-leader, Jeremiah Sands. The cult then summons a demonic biker gang, the Black Skulls, from the depths of hell to abduct Mandy. Drugged with hallucinogens, she is presented to Jeremiah. He monologues for a bit before playing a sample of his folk record. Instead of submitting to the cult leader, Mandy does the unthinkable: she laughs at him. Eventually Red seeks revenge for the cult’s devious actions in a bloody disconnect from reality where nothing stands in his way. Armed with a homemade battle ax, Red leaves a brutal path of destruction in his wake that is the stuff of nightmares.
Mandy is a wild, wild ride of a film that attempts to merge 80’s exploitation with trippy psychedelic visuals which becomes a mesmerizing love letter to an era of fantasy pulp novels, Satanic Panic, and custom van murals. Let’s just say it isn’t for everyone. Divided into chapters with unique headings, it's easier to divide the film in half: Before Cage Kills / After Cage Kills. Lasting impressions of the film will no doubt involve the latter, but Mandy is an arresting film from the beginning. Soaked in layer upon layer of neon lights, fog (so much fog), and lens flares it's a unique film to witness. Even though it contains themes on religion, fragile male egos, and love Mandy demands that you live the experience of the film rather than actively analyze every frame.
Let’s talk about Nicolas Cage. There’s been a great deal of praise on Cage’s performance here being an unleashed berserker that fulfills the axiom of “Cage Rage”. While he is well cast for the calm and understated Red Miller, his performance is memorable in the violent parts of this film not because of what he does, but that he is willing to commit to those scenes. Put any other actor in some white briefs and a tiger t-shirt covered in blood and vodka and you won’t get the same commitment that Cage offers. His ability to surrender to these moments, no matter how insane, shows why he is one of the best working actors. Believe me, after a second or third viewing you’ll begin to see it. You could put anyone in those briefs, but would they really make the same kind of impact?
Andrea Riseborough creates within Mandy a character of incredible depth and power with a cool daydreamy exterior. Her facial scar and intense love of the supernatural reveal an interesting yet dark backstory that is thankfully never realized. Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sands steals the show. His intense yet fragile portrayal of a failed indie rocker turned cult leader is mesmerizing. Lines like “If you are not with me, you will not ascend” barely scratches the surface of the nonsense he is hurling around. Supporting cast are all well suited for their roles and give outstanding performances (even if they’re hidden behind a spiky black leather hood). Chief among them is the veteran actor Bill Duke (Predator, Commando) as the backwoods arms dealer, Caruthers. After getting a visit from a broken and bloody Red he asks, “So what you hunting?” Red replies calmly, “Jesus Freaks”.
Nevertheless, Cosmatos peppers in enough humor to keep the dense proceedings from caving in on itself. One of my favorite lighthearted moments involves a fake TV commercial Red watches after the cult leaves the house advertising a fictional macaroni and cheese brand called Cheddar Goblin. It’s an insane ad that just plays through while a gonzo-eyed Red looks on. Brilliant. A few other bits add some humor to the feature that seem a bit too self-aware but work marvelously given the violent absurdity we’re seeing play out.
Panos’ insane phantasmic ride captures the essence of 70s/80s counterculture while dealing with trusted themes of love, loss, and revenge in an era no different than our own. Key here is the reference-heavy visual aesthetic combined with an unflinching assault on the senses. All this makes for a memorable experience that will leave you feeling like you’ve been to another world.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Standard keepcase with slipcover and reversible artwork. The disc opens to RJLE logo followed by 3 trailers before arriving on the Main Menu screen cycling clips behind typical navigation options.
Mandy is a vicious snowflake on Blu-ray with a clean and sharp HD image presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 encoded in AVC/MPEG-4. Shot digitally the film makes every effort to appear like your favorite ragged paperback fantasy novel with various filters and color grading effects to achieve a perfect early 80’s aesthetic.
Colors are bright and vivid to say the least. Primaries are bold and dynamic in conjunction with the gritty visual aesthetic. Skin tones are solid and warm when available. A dark pitched film with heavy blues and fluorescent beams make the whole production look like a metal album cover from the 80s. Some noise in the black levels for the outdoor scenes but hold solid for medium indoor and closeups. Outside of the hallucinogenic episodes fine detail is present but still hiding under a layer of fat film grain. Costuming is clear and facial features sing with clarity.
Mandy arrives on Blu-ray with a confident DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. Full-bodied and lush, the mix utilizes the breadth of the sound field, giving the foreboding electro madness a thick resonance that envelopes the room. Though dialogue exchanges are handled from a strong center channel, Mandy stretches the bounds of disorienting directionality with pleasing results. Frequently dialogue is spoken in a demonic sounding filter that makes it difficult to understand. Otherwise, characters speak in clear dialogue tracks that are free of hiss or other elements. Like the visuals, the audio presentation is an assault on the senses that relies on the viewer to just experience whatever is coming at you.
Much credit to the success of Mandy lies within the doom metal inspired soundtrack from the late composer Johann Johannsson. Collaborating with drone metal guitarist Stephen O’Malley the scoring here is an intense mix of twisted themes and instrumentation. Screeching guitar riffs, 80s synth tones, and eerie atmospherics that when combined cast a foreboding energy that gives the film its identity. I rarely say this, but if the violent themes in the film aren't too intense for you, please check out the soundtrack album you won’t regret it.
We don't get much in terms of bonus content, but it should hold you over until (the inevitable?) special edition arrives.
Mandy is a violent and arresting horror film that tells a simple revenge story in the most unique way possible. Coated in layers of style and genre references Cosmatos’ sophomore outing is an experience you won’t soon forget. There are few films that deserve the praise of being called an “Instant Cult Classic” and I think this is one of them. Mandy gets a solid Blu-ray from RLJE Films with an impressive A/V presentation and enough bonus features to hold you over until (the inevitable?) special edition. Grab some weird friends and experience Mandy. Highly Recommended.