'Mandy' film review: A vengeful, axe-wielding Nic Cage takes on an evil cult
A cocaine-fueled, battle axe wielding Nicolas Cage cuts a swath of bloody vengeance in the hypnotically mesmerizing, intensely personal and metal as hell horror flick "Mandy" (opening in theaters Sept. 14).
In short: Red and Mandy (Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough) live an isolated but tranquil life together alone in the woods - but their quiet life is destroyed when an elementally evil cult destroys Mandy, leaving Red only alive with revenge to live for. Linus Roache and Bill Duke also star.
First and foremost: it's impossible to imagine anyone but Nicolas-fricking-Cage in the lead role. Many debates have been had about Cage's talent - whether he's a genius or simply unhinged. "Mandy" affords Cage the opportunity to indulge the intimate and the manic. His stoic, reserved character has the minimal amount of dialogue - and Red is barely in the entire first half of the film. Yet, Cage perfectly establishes an unspoken, deeply rooted love for Mandy, despite his minimal screentime in the first act. His restrained performance lays the dramatic groundwork for the rest of the film - and justifies his ridiculous revenge journey.
And what a journey it is - and it's one that allows Cage to go full-blown Ridiculous Cage. If his fine dramatic work grounds the story, then his manic second half performance is the pay off. Cage gets to take on supernaturally strong psychopaths with a battle axe but only some crying in his underwear, a smattering of primal screaming and doing a lot of cocaine.
Bloody revenge tales are a film genre unto themselves, but director and co-writer Panos Cosmatos differentiates his vision with an eerie, unyielding menace and an aesthetic all its own. While the film is set during the heyday of heavy metal genre, the film is somehow incredibly metal without forcing a headbanging soundtrack down the audience's throat. It's metal in execution without the crutch of electric guitars or inaudible screaming. Vibrant, saturated colors define the film's palette, underscored by an unsettling synth soundtrack. "Mandy" lacks many - if any - boring or conventional shots: every frame vacillates between dreamlike or nightmarish.
Casual filmgoers could be put off by the slow burn that is the 45 minutes, wherein very little plot wise actually happens. Cosmatos patiently builds a story that allows each scene to breath - and the filmmaker firmly establishes that he will dictate the pacing and not merely cater to audience expectations. Even when the film switches gears from taut horror flick to all-out slasher, "Mandy" still moves at its own pace. Cosmatos establishes and commits to a visual and atmospheric tone that makes "Mandy" hard to turn away from for a single moment.
Final verdict: A ton of revenge flicks has a high body count punctuated by flashy deaths, but "Mandy" thrives on a patient, unvarnished atmospheric experience, underpinned by pathos and gore.
"Mandy" is not rated and has a running time of 121 minutes. The horror revenge slasher opens in select theaters Sept. 14.