SPOILER ALERT: No more than what's shown in the trailer, along with some commentary on the structure of the film. If you haven’t seen the trailer, I don’t recommend it.
Mandy is a grimy, blood-soaked phantasmagoria that walks the line between arthouse and grindhouse.
The term "visionary" gets thrown around a little too much these days, and it's especially annoying when it's attached to new, unproven directors. Every once in a while, though, a genuine visionary comes along and bestows something unique upon moviegoers, and right now that visionary is Panos Cosmatos, and that unique something is his second feature, Mandy. Having not seen Beyond the Black Rainbow, I wasn't really sure what to expect going into this apart from a widely-hailed performance form Nic Cage and a whole bunch of insane-looking visuals. On these fronts and more, Mandy delivers the goods in a singular - but flawed - fashion.
It's not a groundbreaking story: A religious cult kills a man's wife, so he goes after them for some sweet, sweet revenge. Nic Cage plays the man (Red Miller), and he's given a nice opportunity to play to his strengths as an actor. There's one scene in particular where he goes completely unhinged and over the top during a very weighty emotional moment, and the result is some of the best Nic Cage acting that Nic Cage has done in a while. Alongside him are an otherworldly Andrea Riseborough as the titular Mandy, and a spellbinding Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sand, the cult leader. The scenes with him are among my favorite in the film, and showcase Cosmatos' flair for unsettling psychedelic visuals better than anything else in the film.
You will not get bored watching any of these people on screen, though you might get bored with other things. This is a very self-indulgent film for better and worse. Cosmatos likes to let the audience stew in his creative juices, and at its best, it is a truly one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. More often than not it leaned toward the good, but there were a few points where it took too long to get through a scene and my attention drifted, but not enough to dampen the whole experience (it should be noted that for the first hour I sat next to a woman who chewed every single piece of popcorn individually with her mouth open, giving me an ulcer the size of a pancake).
The pacing of the movie somewhat works against its official synopsis, since the inciting incident (for Red) doesn't happen until just over an hour into the two-hour movie. I didn't mind that so much, because the first hour is quite a bit more interesting than the second half if you ask me, but I can see people getting impatient waiting for the much-advertised revenge part of the film. In a lot of ways this is really Jeremiah's film, as his actions are what drive the narrative forward, and it could be argued that the real inciting incident is when Jeremiah drives past Mandy and sees her for the first time early on in the film. Red is an unwitting bystander to the horrors Jeremiah and his followers create for him and Mandy, and his story doesn't truly kick off until the second half of the film.
It was also this half of the film that found me slightly losing interest. Once the revenging begins, it almost abandons its arthouse ambitions and becomes a gory-as-fuck grindhouse revenge flick, and as such, the film feels kinda disjointed. The revenge stuff was much less interesting to me than the weird cult stuff, and while I appreciate how unique and violent the entire thing was as a whole, I think in some ways the tonal shift cheapens the film. This film asks you to make certain logical leaps of faith, especially during this revenge section, that weren't adequately set up in the first half. It makes me wonder how much of it really matters, because this film makes no bones about being a sensory feast above everything else. The grindhouse stuff just isn't as good as the rest. It's not BAD, per se, but at the risk of overusing this word, it lacks the visionary direction of the first half. It's not until the inevitable final showdown that the psychedelia of the first half comes back into play, and things get more interesting.
As mentioned above, this film is a sensory feast. Apart from Cage's explosive performance, the visuals are the main selling point for this film. I've never seen a film so vividly grungy. It's almost always awash in some kind of colorful haze, light leak, or particle effect that gives it a very otherworldly feel unlike any film I've seen before. There are very few perfectly clean shots in the film that I can remember, and there are scenes that utilize some very unsettling effects that haunted me during and afterward, particularly when drugs got introduced to the narrative. The score (one of the last composed by the great Jóhan Jóhansson before his untimely death) is a perfectly fitting amalgam of different musical ideas that showcased Johansson's breadth of skill. On top of that, the film kicks off with one of the best King Crimson songs ever, which set the tone for the film beautifully.
All things considered, I still had a pretty great time at the cinema with Mandy. Some elements may turn you off, but if you're looking for some bonafide visionary filmmaking, seek this out. It's available now on VOD, but if you can see it big, see it big. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission, as is the opportunity to see Nic Cage in something that doesn't suck and actually plays to his strengths. The best thing that can be said about this film is that it is a wholly unique piece of work, and I can't think of too many other films I can say that about in a given year.