Mid-way through Mandy, Nic Cage sits on a loo backdropped by the worst wallpaper you’ve ever seen and unleashes a series of guttural howls that make Brando’s cries of “Stella” seem like whispered sweet nothings. But Cage, cinema’s bastion of batshit, is just doing his breathing exercises for the main event – a revenge spree in which he juggles a crossbow, a chainsaw, and a hand-forged silver axe to mow down a religious sect and the demons they’ve summoned.
It’s the most infernal performance yet from Old Nic, who chugs vodka, snorts coke and grins from a mask of gore. And yet it all starts off so gently, with Cage’s hirsute lumberjack Red Miller snuggling in front of trashy sci-fi shows with his titular wife (Andrea Riseborough), whose job as a pulp-fiction illustrator lends the movie its crazed aesthetic. Then the religious nutjobs snatch Mandy for their Messianic leader Jeremiah (Linus Roache) and a psychedelic initiation ritual duly spins out of control. The outcome is Mandy dead and Red crouched on the aforementioned toilet, howling.
If you’re one of the 10 people who saw writer/director Panos Cosmatos’ trippy debut Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010), then you’ll have an idea what to expect, although Mandy is a good deal more propulsive and violent. Well, in its second half at least: the first hour is akin to crawling into an opium den to gaze into Satan’s kaleidoscope, all swirling colours, disconcerting superimpositions, and off-beam transitions. It’s arthouse-meets-grindhouse, consciously evoking Lynch’s Blue Velvet in mood and dialogue (“Don’t you fucking look at me!”) as well as Ingmar Bergman; the Persona- esque moment when two actors’ faces meld together is the most freaky-assed thing you’ll see all year.
The leather-clad demons, meanwhile, could be Mad Max extras, or Pinhead’s posse – or even long-lost relatives of the apocalyptic Harley rider who chases down Cage in the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona. And if that’s not nutty enough, the grainy 16mm close-ups of Riseborough’s face make her look otherworldly – a description that fits the environments built by Cosmatos as he turns the Pacific Northwest of 1983 into an Iron Maiden album sleeve.
Add the kind of cosmic wonderment that so animated H.P. Lovecraft’s prose, the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s final haunting score and a main title card that appears an hour into the movie, and you have an expressionistic midnight movie that stirs its many influences into something startlingly unique. In fact, so fresh is this nightmare vision painted by DoP Benjamin Loeb’s super-saturated colours, it’s a miracle it coheres at all, threatening to run off the screen at any moment and puddle on the floor along with your melted brain.
Find out what else is coming out this year with our breakdown of the most anticipated upcoming movies of 2018 and beyond.
- Release date: September 14, 2018 (US)/October 12, 2018 (UK)
- Certificate: R (US)/18 (UK)
- Running time: 121 mins