Year: 2018
Production Co: Spectrevision
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Writer: Panos Cosmatos/Aaron Stewart-Ahn/Casper Kelly
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke

A I write this review, Nicolas Cage has gone full meta in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which I've yet to see. But by all accounts (and judging from the trailer) it's very self-aware of the Cage mythology that's swirled up around him over the last handful of years, and particularly online.

And this film is a perfect example of the cultural artifacts that have contributed to that mythology. It feels like I've described the last few Cage movies I've reviewed as the Cage-iest he's ever been, but Mandy takes the cake by quite a margin. Everything about it from the premise and setting to the creative execution is something you've never seen before wrapped around what could otherwise have been a fairly generic home invasion thriller.

The Mandy of the title (Andrea Riseborough) is a woman in a mountain township in the early 80s, a bit waifish and a bit of a hippie with heavy metal tank tops who tends her house and spends her days painting, waiting for the return of her man Red (Cage, who works in the nearby mines) where they enjoy an idyllic life together.

The actual plot concerns their kidnapping and tormenting by a fearsome local religious cult, their charismatic but unhinged leader (Linus Roache) supported by a small gang of distinctive misfits (including a woman who looked so much like Joan Allen I was convinced it was her) and a biker gang who seems to have supernatural powers.

If that all seems a bit outlandish, it's actually the perfect creative marriage with the tone and style applied by co-writer and director Panos Cosmatos.

Believe it or not, the comparable example that springs immediately to mind is 2001: A Space Odyssey. It starts off sombre, lyrical and extremely moody, but because of not just the increasingly eccentric happenstance in the plot but the head-trip audiovisual environment Cosmatos plunges you into, it goes down such a rabbit hole it's less a story by the time it's over and more a tone poem.

Even the horrific denouement of Mandy's part in the story is – while no less awful – cast with such a horror fantasy tinge you can almost imagine it's only a nightmare Red's having.

The aesthetic is most (and first) noticeable when the gang of Jesus freaks drug Mandy and everything in the movie slows down, the sound reduced to murmurs from another room, the visuals entering into a sickly slow mo and leaving VHS-like ghosting effects everywhere, perfectly mirroring her mental state.

It's a fever dream of nightmarish, red-hued sights and pulsating, ghostly sound, shot through with bouts of jarring and over the top bloodshed and violence – especially as Red goes on his rampage of revenge.

I don't know if the story or the premise themselves actually grabbed me so much, and I don't know if I'd recommend it as an entertaining watch because of them. But it's the mis en scene Cosmatos wields that turns it into something you've never seen before.

The reviews I've read used terms like 'hyperstylised', 'grindhouse' and even 'death metal wet dream', and they all apply. It's bloody, moody and utterly original.

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