Mandy isn’t a film you should watch for a family-friendly experience. The psychedelic psychological horror film from 2018 is… pretty violent.
It finds Nic Cage on fine form, plus there’s an understated performance from Andrea Riseborough. Brace yourselves, this one gets trippy!
Mandy the Psychedelic Horror Thing
Directed by Panos Cosmatos, it’s fair to say this is one of the most inventively insane films we’ve seen for quite some time.
It’s basically a mix of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) meets whatever vengeance movie you dare to think of.
But throw into that a foreboding and disturbing cult menace (clearly inspired by Charles Manson), special effects that drip with LSD, and a retro ’80s grainy style. This is Mandy.
And warning… spoilers ahead!
It’s 1983. The film follows the introverted and reclusive lives of Red Miller (Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Riseborough). They live in the woods and work quite mundane jobs, but are very happy with their lot.
Mandy is also an author and artist in her spare time, creating elaborate fantasy art her boyfriend greatly admires.
One morning, when walking to work, a van passes her carrying the Children of the New Dawn. This is a deviant hippy cult.
Its figurehead is Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). He’s a total maniac and is out of his mind.
However, he’s distracted by Mandy’s beauty and demands his acolytes to procure her for him. Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy) duly goes out to do this, summoning the Black Skulls.
These are a demonic biker gang who eat human flesh and consume a virulent form of LSD.
What follows is one of the most disturbing series of scenes we’ve seen from modern cinema, with Mandy and Red kidnapped and tied up.
Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouéré) drugs Mandy with LSD and injects her with venom from a live giant black wasp.
What follows is pretty hallucinatory and involves a rambling mantra from Jeremiah Sand in which he attempts to seduce Mandy.
However, she laughs at him and this leads to her demise in violent fashion.
This all takes up the first half of the film, which is intense on a psychological level as the kidnapping scene is frightening. As is all the torture and purple hues going on.
’80s style fantasy artwork often drifts in and out of backgrounds, too, as if Mandy is existing within the backdrops of scenes.
Riseborough is terrific in all of this, and the first hour is her film. Cage is pretty much secondary throughout.
However, once the cult disperses it’s really over to him. This stage is actually quite similar to Pig (2021) in which Cage’s character has to handle grief and loss. And whilst in that film he’s understated in his response, for Mandy he’s allowed to go ballistic.
Having been previously introspective and quiet, he hits the fan as he’s overwhelmed by rage over the loss of Mandy.
Now, it’s important to remember the context of the below clip. Seen in isolation, it may look a little ridiculous.
But what’s played out in the preceding 20 minutes is tortuous even for viewers. Red’s outburst here is heartbreaking and haunting. And not just some random moment of Cage going full Cage.
However, after this scene Cage does, indeed, go full Nic Cage. My word, his pursuit of vengeance enters a new realm.
He visits his friend Caruthers (Bill Duke of Predator fame) for weapons. And he also fashions a giant battle axe.
Then Mandy enters its second act, with Red Miller going on an insane killing spree through the Black Skulls and Children of the New Dawn.
It’s fair to say what follows are some fairly violent scenes that warrant more than a PG rating. We’re leaving these scenes out (and various others) of this review for two reasons:
- They’re all insanely violent and this is a family blog, dammit!
- We don’t want to spoil all the surprises.
We must say, we weren’t quite prepared for how psychologically damaging this thing was going to be. Particularly in its first half.
In its second hour you relish in Miller’s revenge and can get behind him, with Cage on terrific form as a man transformed.
But whether you enjoy Mandy or not we can’t second-guess.
The film is still divisive. On IMDb we’ve seen user reviews handing over 2/10s and calling it arthouse nonsense. Others consider it a modern cult classic.
Critics certainly welcomed it (on the whole), with the film holding strong reviews. Such as from Dr. Mark Kermode of the Church of Wittertainment.
Well, we enjoyed Mandy a great deal. We’re not sure we’re going to watch it again for a bit, and we’ll never consider the colour purple in the same way again, but the film is there for horror fans to revel in.
It’s phantasmagoria. It’s nightmarish. But it has a strange fist pumping outcome to it all, with everything set to a hallucinogenic hue. Far out, man.
With Elijah Wood as one of the producers, the film was able to secure a modest $6 million budget. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a hit and only made back $1.4 million at the box office.
Hopefully future rentals and its cult classic status (that it’s already achieved) will help break the film even in time.
Mandy has an old-school atmosphere and video quality, harking back to the 1980s. There’s a grainy quality to the film.
To achieve this effect, the crew used an Arri Alexa camera.
Prior to shooting starting in 2017, Cage’s 14 year marriage to actress Alice Kim came to an end. He channelled his distress over this into his performance.
There was other sadness about the film, as composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (his score is fantastic) suddenly died in February 2018. He was 48.
Jóhannsson had also provided excellent soundtracks for films such as Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival, and The Theory of Everything.
The result is the film is dedicated to his memory.