Let us be very clear here: This is not a Nicolas Cage film. It is a film with Nicolas Cage in it, but it is wholly the true vision of a visual genius.
The plot is simple; Red Miller (Cage) seeks revenge after he and his girlfriend Mandy’s (Andrea Riseborough) home is attacked by deranged cultists. But the story and the ride one takes with it are unlike anything ever seen before in cinema. What could be a tired old revenge story is instead an art-house, exploitation, psychedelic darkly comic nightmare that you’ll wish you could never wake up from.
To fully explain Mandy is not possible. One must truly see it to believe it. Director Panos Cosmatos does not simply make images look pretty (although they resoundingly are), he commands every frame like the bastard child of Kubrick and Lynch, throwing every maniacal thing he can think of into this maniacal menagerie of mania. Demon hell-bikers, (think Cenobites on wheels) animated interludes, a chainsaw battle between a chainsaw and a MUCH BIGGER CHAINSAW, Mandy is packing it all. And it all looks beautiful. The stark primary colours, the ghosting of moving images, the framing of characters, even right down to the VHS-esque film-grain, every single frame of Mandy could be sold as high art if it were simply still photographs (Cage fans would likely volunteer his reaction after snapping someone’s neck in the film as the primary candidate).
But then one would lose out on the brilliant majesty of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s droning, evil fantastic score, expertly complimenting the film’s visuals with an equally horrific tone.
By all of the above, Mandy shouldn’t conceivably work, and yet it does. The hell-bikers, the impractical and unexplained flashes of colour, Nicolas Cage riding to battle with a tricked-out home-made battle-axe, it all comes naturally once one is fully given over.
Cage has become the sleeper focus of Mandy’s publicity tour for his acclaimed performance. And, damn it, he’s earned it. His is a performance that is purely visual, like the film surrounding him (resulting in some prime Cage moments along the way), and he communicates a great deal despite only having a handful of spoken lines in the film. Red Miller is a man going through hell on his journey, and Cage and the film do wonders showing it all. Riseborough is on effectively eerie form as the titular Mandy, while Linus Roache is surprisingly amazing as the demented and jaded Jeremiah, the film’s big-bad.
Mandy is by all definitions the height of cinema as it stands today. It is a true original in its visual storytelling, and must be celebrated. Every minute is unforgettable, every performance is outstanding, and every piece of it is pure art. Nicolas Cage has spent the last decade-and-a-bit making mostly stinkers, save for a few, and what a choice for him to reclaim his rightful place in acting goodbooks, in what is indisputably the best film of the year.