Do you know how close I was to loving this picture? Mandy is a tornado of insanity, a backwoods revenge trip on LSD that could only star Nicolas Cage. It seems perfectly crafted to effectively utilize both Cage the Actor and Cage the Meme. It gives the former enough scenes of grief and anger to feel like an exercise in legitimate acting, while giving the latter an environmental canvas to go ape shit.
Yet here I sit, feeling curiously unsatisfied after watching Mandy. I think director/screenwriter Panos Cosmanos (who co-wrote this picture with Aaron Stewart-Ahn) envisioned a picture similar to the one I just described and…proceeded to stuff it with excruciatingly-paced scenes and a tone that is never quite sure if it’s a parody or not. Never in the history of this website has a movie come so close to greatness before cratering into forgettable territory.
Mandy is the story of Red (Cage), a simple man and logger who lives in the Shadow Mountains with artist girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). The two live a quiet existence in their cabin, pontificating about life, reminiscing about their difficult pasts and having sex.
One day, Mandy comes across Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a cult leader that makes Jim Jones look like a well-adjusted man. This creep is the head of the Children of the New Dawn, a group of hippies who confuse peace and love with drugs and violence. Sand is so entranced by this woman that he summons the Black Skulls (a set of demon bikers who feed off LSD and human flesh) to kidnap Mandy so he can have sex with her.
They succeed, but in the ensuing uh, seduction, Mandy can’t stop laughing at Sand’s ding-a-ling (it’s small), which earns her the experience of being burned alive while Red (bound to a pole with barbed wire) watches.
From there, the spark of a great revenge tale should have been sparked. I often imagine an alternate universe where 1) we aren’t slowly killing the Earth and 2) Mandy is a joyous gore-fest that calls to mind the best of grind house pictures – the kind that callously stray between comedy, parody, sweet glorious death and performances that earn those Razzies.
Instead, we get a picture that goes very far into the psychedelic and esoteric, featuring lengthy (and boy, do I mean lengthy) shots of what looks like the screen-grab from Jefferson Airplane’s music video for “White Rabbit”, along with elongated rantings about the nature of this Earth and humanity. Yes, this picture is the closet approximation to an LSD trip you can get without actually breaking on through to the other side yourself.
If only done once (and they are visually entrancing), that can be a haunting interlude amidst all the violence. But Mandy makes moments like this the crux of the picture, which means you are fighting sleep within the first 20 minutes of this picture. It doesn’t help that everyone involved underplays their roles, giving Mandy a strange low-key vibe that it can never rise up from.
Cosmanos shows legitimate talent directing the action scenes, which have a violent crunch to them. But a host of Spinal Tap-like guitar solos suggest a silly approach that’s at odds with the very philosophical bent this movie loves to take at times.
Cage is Cage, meaning there’s an adequate amount of decent acting to go alongside moments that are destined to become GIFs (such as a moment in a bathroom where good ol’ Nic tries to grunt out pain whilst clad in his underwear). Riseborough is enchanting as sort of a de-glammed hippie sex goddess, while Roache’s take on a cult leader (a little Ric Flair-ish, really) is both unsettling and showy.
I guess my main issue with Mandy is that it could never decide what it wanted to be. The movie has the structure and set-up to be the ultimate parody of Cage’s fierce insanity (sort of a Daddy of all Cage Movies, if you will), but too much of it suggests a product that Cosmanos wanted to be taken seriously. I can’t wait for someone to remake this with Cage again in 10-15 years. God knows he’ll still be insane enough to do it.