Converging at the crossroads of psychological thriller and revenge horror, Mandy is reminiscent of many films and styles and yet somehow simultaneously unlike anything I’ve seen before. The plot is not exactly unique — deranged Nic Cage goes ape-shit on a bunch of badies — but it is director Panos Cosmatos’ vision that brings us into the realm of the extraordinary.
Mandy is, beyond all else, entertaining. It is a crazy, wild, visually stunning tale of love, cults, and drugs that forces the audience to experience all three in vivid detail. Secluded lovers, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and Red (Nicolas Cage), find themselves at the mercy of a creepy cult leader and his drug-addled henchmen. When Mandy resists indoctrination and is tortured and killed for her insolence, Red embarks on a crazed journey to hunt and kill everyone involved.
Cosmatos manages to rarify this basic revenge story through a mixture of psychedelic imagery and what-the-fuck moments that permeate every second of the film. From the opening shots of excluded woods and majestic night skies to the unexplained commercial for Cheddar Goblins, a mac-n-cheese product that is vomited into your bowl by a goblin, Mandy keeps you on your toes, albeit a bit disgusted. Perhaps the most affective scene in the films is the foray into Mandy’s mind while she is being drugged by the cult family with a combination of a strong LSD style psychedelic and the sting of a humungous and horrifying wasp-like creature. We watch as Mandy’s pupils dilate to almost the entirety of her iris and then we begin to experience the effects along with her: vibrant colors, trailed visuals, and echoed speech. The film does an incredible job of imitating the drug-fueled nightmare by forcing us to sit in the space with Mandy and see through her eyes as cult leader, Jeremiah, leers at her like a newly acquired specimen. Not only are we forced to experience her hyper-stylized encounter but we’re forced to experience it in the excruciatingly slow pace of an acid-trip-gone-wrong.
The focus is definitely on the overall experience in Mandy and its flaws surface only where Cosmatos attempts to fill the plot in with tangential story lines, introducing a biker gang of sub-humans that run on some sort of out-of-this-world super LSD that Red has to hunt down and mutilate — taking a sniff of cocaine here and a dab of face-melting LSD there. Not that I didn’t enjoy the tangents (they were appropriate for the winding, psychedelic impression that drives the film), but they led my mind to try to piece together deeper meaning in a film that should be appreciated on sheer visuals and the feelings it evokes.
I am a movie watcher who loves to deep dive into the metaphors and social meanings of films, especially horror, picking apart the cultural commentary and looking for hints of our society reflected back onscreen, but Mandy was a nice reminder that movies can be valued as pure entertainment. Though even as I type this, I can’t help but boil Mandy down to its base meaning — there is evil in this world in the form of terrible men addicted to power who see everyone else as a disposable pawn in their struggle for comfort and control — and if that isn’t horribly socially relevant, I don’t know what is.