Panos Cosmatos Turns Grindhouse Cinema into Art with ‘Mandy’
A Surreal Doom & Gloom is the perfect vessel for Nicholas Cage
Where to start unpacking the film Mandy (2018) is an interesting dilemma. On one hand you have a beautiful and surreal world coupled with a strong sense of lucid colors and cinematography, but on the other, you have an LSD crazed Nicholas Cage that is hell-bent on killing some Jesus freaks. It really is quite the interesting combination that I am convinced no one on this earth could have constructed this except Panos Cosmatos. Now, I have not seen the Italian filmmakers debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010), so I had no idea what to expect with his follow-up, Mandy, and what I got was something I don’t think anyone could have predicted. The film has received countless praise from critics, which leads me to believe that the Grindhouse film has reached a new pinnacle.
Therefore, I think the best place to start with the film is the plot, as it is the most straightforward aspect of this surreal acid trip. We open with an introduction to the characters, Red Miller and Mandy Bloom, a couple that lives in the secluded wilderness. This section of the film is very nostalgic-heavy, and uses a combination of heavy colors and wide shots to make the forest they inhabit feel like a fantastical wonderland of sorts. The couple is very much in love, and it shows as they discuss philosophical questions about the universe and stay nestled in each other’s arms. The cinematography is a beautiful nightmare that makes the two almost seem inhuman as they bask in the soft pink hues, which Cosmatos deemed the trademark color of the film. The dreamscape quickly turns to a nightmare, as we are introduced to Linus Roach and his merry band of cult followers. Driving down an abandoned road, Roach is captivated by Mandy as she walks alone, catching his eye. He exclaims that he must have her and sends his worshipers to capture her. In order to do this, he must summon the “biker demons from hell,” and sacrifices his own in order to do so. Now, the overarching color scheme has faded, and we see Mandy kidnapped by the demons as the bright colors fade into a deep blue.
Things don’t go as planned for Roach and his cult as Mandy, played by Andrea Riseborough, sees through his superficial religious jargon, laughing in his face even after the heavy dose of LSD they administer to her. This particularly was one of the more bizarre scenes of the film, as we see the faces of Mandy and Roach bleed together in an application of unity that is achieved through editing. The director really strives to make you feel like you’re on acid, just like all of it’s characters, and at times you feel as if you are in a loop. This is where things go sour for Red and the true form of Nicholas Cage is set free. After watching the drug induced cult burn his wife at the stake, he sets out for revenge. This is where the film earns it’s Grindhouse stripes, and we get to see Nicholas Cage drugged out of his skull and kick some ass. Now, it’s one thing to have Nicholas Cage act like a crazy person in a standard film, most people pass it off as bad acting, but when the entire film is off the rails and borderline insane, it just feels…right. I’ve never really been a Cage fan, but after Mandy, I may be turning the corner.
The way Nicholas Cage portrays a man that just lost the love of his life, while also high on copious amounts of cocaine and acid, is damn near perfect. The director’s vision does not change through the film, and maybe that’s what allows Cage to be what he always has been—a crazy person. His widened eyes and comical, yet believable delivery only aid to the absurdity that Mandy seeks to portray; I don’t believe anyone else could have played this part better. On his journey for revenge, Red rocks a crossbow, a giant chainsaw, and a home-welded axe that mirrors the battle axe guitars that were popularized by `70s and `80s rock and roll. Despite how silly the film can get in concept at times, it never feels wrong, and that is because the cinematography and art direction is so damn good. Spliced in the gore-fest that Cage enacts on his villains are sequences of haunting animation, showing Mandy calling out to him—a love letter to films like Heavy Metal (1981). It’s an odd combo, going from admiring the surreal world and nostalgic `80s score, to watching Cage fight a demon with a sword for a dick, while bumping coke off of his knife. However, I admire what Cosmatos has done: turned Grindhouse cinema into an art form.
The violence is done through practical effects, minus a few small shots, so the Gridnhouse factor is really driven home. The over-the-top approach to a rather straightforward story is something iconic in Grindhouse cinema. Sure, the film is violent and exploitative, but that’s the point. These cult members are using religion as a means to exploit their world and those who inhabit it, and Red is going to exploit them right back. Early in the film, Red describes his favorite planet as Gigantis because it eats other planets, which is really exemplified in the final act as Cage becomes the cult’s religious destroyer. The cult is awoken to their actions, masked by drugs and religious justification, by the concept that man is God—and man, is God pissed off. Once again, I cant really put the film into an exact description without viewing it, but the film is an achievement of cinema. Exploitative Gridnhouse films are usually not very good, despite the nostalgic affinity people have for them, but Mandy manages to be violent, surreal, beautiful, exploitative and ridiculous all in one breath. The nostalgia factor is a love letter to ’70s and ’80s films, but offers Cosmatos’ own twisted interpretation of the Manson-like cults that blindly follow a false idol. I applaud Cosmatos for knowing what the film’s direction is, and going with an actor like Cage who occasionally (or usually) gets a bad rap. Nevertheless, he is the perfect actor for this role.
Check out Mandy whenever you can, while it’ll likely be a “love it or hate it” film, the spectacle is something everyone has to see at least once.