Mandy is a surreal, heavy metal descent into madness


The early 80’s were a peak time for gory horror films and heavy metal music. Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy transports the audience to an alternate reality in the year 1983. It is here where a journey of revenge begins, leading further and further into madness.

The Quest for Revenge

Revenge films are a fairly common subgenre of horror, yet Mandy brings something new and exciting to the screen. Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) directed and co-wrote the film with Aaron Stewart-Ahn, this being the first feature film written by Stewart-Ahn. The alternate 80’s reality the filmmakers create is as mysterious as it is violent. When we meet the couple, Red (Nicolas Cage; Mom and Dad, The Wicker Man) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough; Oblivian, Birdman), they live a simple and quite existence.

When a deranged cult leader sets his sights on Mandy, Red’s world is turned upside down. It drives the plot forward in an unexpectedly emotional way. As Red goes on his quest for revenge he is pitted against a savage biker gang, drug-crazed cult followers, and a cult leader who believes he is one with God.

One of the most compelling aspects of the plot is how Cosmatos creates a surreal and almost dreamlike world through visuals. At first, the setting seems like it is just a normal forest that you have likely been to many times. Yet when the sky is shown the colors are like nothing of this Earth.

Between the vibrant colors, strange hallucinations, and animated dream sequences the audience immediately knows this isn’t the 1983 we experienced. The gorgeous cinematography further enhances these aspects.

Blurred Lines and Heavy Metal Aesthetics

The line is blurred between realism and fantasy in many ways, including a deranged gang that is described as either a demonic horde or men on some very potent LSD (or possibly both). The hyper violence that ensues as Red goes on his journey is gory, bloody, and involves some amazing practical effects and character design.  The strange landscape, bizarre villains, blood and guts, and drug-induced hallucinations make for some absolutely stunning visuals that become seared into your brain.

Mandy wouldn’t be the film it is if it wasn’t for its distinct horror/heavy metal aesthetic. There are several nods to classic horror films of the 70’s and 80’s throughout the production. Some examples are: Red and Mandy live near Crystal Lake (a nod to Friday the 13th), the biker gang shares many characteristics with the Cenobites of Hellraiser, a chainsaw fight that will remind you of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the cult feels very reminiscent of the Manson family, and an argument could be made that some of the color schemes in the film are a nod to Dario Argento’s work.

And the Award Goes To…Mandy

The score for Mandy, composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, incorporates the heavy metal elements in a truly beautiful way. The music couples so perfectly with the strange imagery, lending itself to the dreamlike quality of the entire film.

Nicholas Cage is known as an over-actor. Mandy is a film where Cage could easily have gone way over the top in his portrayal of Red, yet this film boasts what is likely Cage’s best performance of his career. There is one specific scene, which is done in a single take, where Cage gives one of his signature “freak out” performances.

He straddles the line to the point where he could have easily gone over the top insane, yet he reigns it in and delivers a heart-wrenching, emotional, and memorable performance that fits with the tone of the film. Other unforgettable turns come from Andrea Riseborough as Mandy, Linus Roache (Non-Stop) as cult leader Jeremiah Sand, Ned Dennehy (Peaky Blinders) as Brother Swan, and Richard Brake (31) as The Chemist.

Mandy is out now in select theaters and VOD. I personally saw the film on VOD, but I would highly recommend seeing it on the big screen if you get the chance. I can only imagine how the sights and sounds would be elevated in a movie theater, and I envy those of you who get to experience that.

Pro tip: be sure to stay until after the credits for a little bonus scene at the end. Mandy is sure to be remembered as one of the best, most unique horror films of 2018.

Next. Review: Killing Joan is a gritty action thriller reminiscent of the 80’s. dark

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