Mandy review: Cage’s latest mixes 80s, metal, midnight movies, lynch and lovecraft

A midnight movie rock opera: Nicolas Cage's Red leads Cosmatos's Mandy, self-described perfectly as a "phantasmagoric journey"

Nicolas Cage’s latest is one of the most memorable films in recent years, even if it does put style over substance.

I still actively find it difficult to decide if I actually enjoyed Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy, A film about Red (Nic Cage) and the titular Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), an isolated couple living in the northwestern US, whose lives get destroyed by a cult lead by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache).

The plot itself is incredibly simple- I can’t emphasize this enough. I will have to watch this film again to really cement my opinion about it, but the first act of the film takes up the majority of the movie- it meanders on and on. But the majority of the film is definitely high art. The best way I can describe this film is a throwback midnight movie Heavy Metal-esque operatic journey with an uncountable amount of beautiful scenes (specifically the instantly iconic cheddar goblin scene).

While the film really wore on my patience (to the point where I dozed off a little bit) much of it is visually beautiful. There are segments of pure animation, and the rest is really hard to describe, except to call it surrealist and a bit Lynchian, with that stylized 80s color palette. There were several scenes which made me feel like my eyes were betraying me, with weird hard to describe scenes, that were just shown in a way that I absolutely never experienced in film. The closest thing I can compare it to is a David Lynch film, or a Denis Villenueve  film in terms of how focused the visuals are. This is all a very positive thing and I really enjoyed just how (I hate to say this) trippy the film was. It really felt that while the film really took its time, the visuals changed so smoothly, that it was like if I blinked, I would miss something.

A big part of the film besides the visuals that really encapsulates the feeling of the film is the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score. It is something between Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, and a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score. It was definitely more minimalistic and ambient compared to other stylized 80s pieces of fiction (like the score to Netflix’s Stranger Things for example), but has the synths that really nail down the atmosphere the crew is going for.

For the performances, I really loved all of them. As a villain, Roach’s Jeremiah and his followers were awesome. He himself was incredibly scary. He reminded me of Frank Silva’s BOB from Twin Peaks in terms of intensity. His followers are also just as creepy, and some of them provide moments of levity in the fact that some of them were pretty dumb hayseed types, and the comedy they provide mix with the rest of the film very well. That use of levity is also a part of Cage’s performance too. Do not get me wrong, it is Nicolas Cage acting, but I really loved it and his performance is just incredibly raw and emotional. There are moments where the meme-iness of Cage really gets to shine, and I think they balanced it really well. There is a scene of Cage just breaking down, and I absolutely loved it. It is hard to describe, but the Cage-y moments blend well with the rest of the performance, and just the sheer brutality of Red mixed with the campiness of Cage was a wonderful combination.

This film has a small amount of action (as the majority is the musing of art from scene to scene, but when it does have it, it is super fun. It plays like a live action adaptation of Doom or Berserk, just sheer carnage against strange beings (there is a cosmic aspect to the film that I do not want to spoil) and there were times when Nic Cage was covered head to toe and blood thanks to his giant halberd-axe that he wields.

Mandy will most definitely be a cult film one day. It is the hardest to digest film I have seen since Eraserhead, and even then you can’t compare the two. I cannot pin down if this film is actually amazing, or just good, because I went in expecting a film like 2018’s Upgrade or 2014’s The Guest, a schlocky action film absolutely oozing with style. If someone went into the film expecting that, they will be sorely disappointed, but I for sure can see this film having a dedicated fanbase. I most definitely see myself owning a copy. It has the cult film material, a really hard to digest film in general, plenty of style and is everything but a conventional film. While it is a film that you have to be in a particular mood for and will most likely be disliked by most audiences due to the unconventional plot structure, I really do think Mandy is special, and I look forward to watching it again.