What an infernal performance by Old Nic. Even by the insane standards of cinema’s bastion of batshit, Mandy is Cage uncaged: chugging vodka, snorting coke, caked in gore, unleashing grins wider and whiter than Jack Torrance could ever dream of, and screaming lines like, “YOU RIPPED MY FAVOURITE SHIRT!” while tussling with a leather-clad Cenobite-thingy that’s been summoned by a Satanic cult.
Set in 1983, Mandy sees Cage play Red, a hirsute, homely lumberjack who lives in a log cabin in the Pacific Northwest with his eponymous wife (Andrea Riseborough, whose otherworldly features are hypnotically accentuated in murky 16mm close-ups). Their cosy life of snuggles and snacks whilst sitting in front of trashy sci-fi shows is rudely interrupted by the aforementioned cult, led by Jeremiah (Linus Roache). One mind-meltingly psychedelic, gut-churningly horrific sequence later, Mandy is dead and Red is left to stumble home and sit on the toilet in his Y-fronts in front of the most godawful wallpaper in cinema to unleash a volley of howls, bellows and guttural roars, each louder than the last.
This first two-thirds of Mandy is slow and trippy and avant-garde, with much of the (in)action shot in foul, infernal colours – neon reds rinsed in sulphurous smog – and Benjamin Loeb’s narcotic widescreen images made all the more bewitching by off-beam transitions, discombobulating superimpositions, and Johan Johansson’s final score, haunting and apocalyptic. Think Larry Cohen’s half-arthouse, half-grindhouse oddity God Told Me to rinsed in the netherworld atmosphere of Blue Velvet (“Don’t you fucking look at me!” screams Jeremiah at one point) and designed to resemble the gothic artwork of ‘80s metal albums, and you’re in the ballpark. It won’t be for everyone, certainly, but those who plug into its hallucinogenic vibe will be transfixed (never more so than during a psychotropic face-melding scene that rivals the Liv Ullmann/Bibi Andersson fusion in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona), while those viewers lucky enough to have seen writer-director Panos Cosmatos’ similarly trippy sci-fi debut Beyond the Black Rainbow will have an idea of what to expect.
Then, for the final stretch, Mandy switches gears, cleaving to its arresting oddness, but accelerating into a revenge thriller as Cage bottles the essence of every whack-job he’s ever played and then takes his wild-haired, wigged-out, bug-eyed nutjob act to a whole new level. Hunting down both the Satanic cult members and the trio of S&M demons they summoned with the Horn of Abraxas (don’t ask), he breaks out a cross-bow, a chainsaw and gigantic silver axe like something out of a Manowar photo shoot, his grin getting bigger and brighter with each fresh gallon of blood that sprays his face.
Nightmarish, ludicrous and a tonne of fun, Mandy seals the five-star deal by concluding on a dazzling final shot that will send viewers spilling into the night with a sense of cosmic wonderment.
For more Cannes 2018 coverage, see our review of Gaspar Noe's Climax.