Spoiler alert! I don’t mean to do it, but you can’t talk about what Mandy is about without giving away something. So consider yourselves forewarned. Now either go watch the film and come back or proceed. I won’t give it all away, but there are a few spoilers….
Revenge is a great motivator. Khan (Ricardo Montalban ) famously quotes Shakespeare in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan when he says that revenge is a dish best served cold. Whatever the cooking directions might be, it’s not hard to figure out that revenge has been a key element in film and literature since pen was first set to paper, or maybe even, paint to cave wall. So you might think that revenge is a tired story arc and there is nothing new that can be done with it. Director Panos Cosmatos’s film Mandy begs to disagree.
Mandy is the story of Red (Nicolas Cage). He’s a hard-working lumberjack, who lives with his true love, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), in a remote cabin in the woods. They live simple lives enjoying their time together when Mandy is not painting strange artistic visions and Red is not deftly chopping down trees with his chainsaw. They’re happy, a rare and precious thing.
Unfortunately, Red and Mandy living happily in a cabin in the woods does not make for much of a horror movie. Fortunately for the viewer, if not for Red and Mandy, their peaceful life is about to be interrupted by Jeremiah (Linus Roache) and his band of cultists. Jeremiah is a charismatic, if somewhat psychotic, cult leader who happens to be driving through the woods one day and spies Mandy walking on the side of the road. He makes eye contact with her and becomes convinced that she is something special.
Since, in Jeremiah’s world, God has told him that it literally is Jeremiah’s world, he believes he should take whatever he wants. To that end, he instructs his followers that they must go back and find this woman so he can claim her for his own.
Mandy, who runs a small grocery during the day, meets Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouéré), one of Jeremiah’s two lovers/female followers. She finds out where Mandy lives through an awkward but, seemingly harmless exchange between the two. Now that Jeremiah knows where she is, it’s only a matter of taking her.
This is where things become a little weird. Jeremiah asks Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy) if he has the horn of Abraxas, which of course he does. Then he has Brother Swan drive them out into the woods and blow the horn. Soon enough there is a roar of engines and three monstrously attired figures ride up on ominously red lit 4-wheelers. They remain somewhat shadowed throughout their exchange, but it’s clear to see these are not some ordinary bikers. Whether they are demons, monsters, or just a bike gang that’s really into dressing up, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that after taking a jar of… something from Brother Swan they agree to do Jeremiah’s bidding.
Mandy and Red are awakened violently in the night by the monster-bikers and soon enough they are separated. The women of the cult take Mandy and inform her that she is blessed to be selected by Jeremiah, then they give her a hallucinogenic drug and, even weirder, sting her with a large wasp-like bug they keep in a jar. This is all to prepare her to meet their great leader. Let’s just say that Mandy is a stronger woman than Jeremiah suspected and this sets the stage for Red’s revenge.
Mandy’s core story is a very simple, classic tale of revenge. What makes the film so interesting and enjoyable to watch is the way Cosmatos approaches it. Even at the start there is almost always a feeling of the surreal when Mandy is in a scene. This only intensifies when the cultists are introduced. Cosmatos and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb use lighting in an incredibly effective way - shadowing the evil bikers so their true nature is not easily understood, using yellow hues to show the world as the cultist see it and finally, over the top reds for Red’s vision of the world. It’s very spot on use of lighting for mood, but at the same time it is extremely effective.
Nicolas Cage also deserves mention here. He’s been an actor for almost 40 years and it shows in his skill at portraying a man who’s filled with rage and on the trail of vengeance. Moreover, as Cage’s Red progresses on his quest, he slips further and further outside of his own grasp of sanity, taking hallucinogenic drugs himself when the opportunity arises. He becomes both a sympathetic protagonist, and a frightening monster, his inner turmoil manifested in blood-soaked form.
Mandy is not an arthouse film, though it uses surrealism throughout. Mandy is also not for the faint of heart. The film is classified as a horror movie for a reason. There is gratuitous gore and more blood than many slasher films. However, if you’re a fan of the genre or just interested in Cosmatos’s surreal vision of this dark corner of the world, then Mandy may be the film for you. So if you’d like to see what would happen if David Lynch were to do a revenge flick, then check out Mandy. Just please don’t drop acid before watching this film. You may never come down!