I feel inadequate reviewing this film so quickly as I have not yet dreamt about it, but in Sundance you must work fast. That’s the sort of feeling that the vision of director Panos Cosmatos gives you in Mandy – a surreal, vibrant and violent triumph. We enter a world only cinema can deliver, one of neon colors, delightful gore, and a place between the planes of reality. Is it a dream? A nightmare? Either way, I didn’t want to wake from it.
Mandy finds Red (Nicolas Cage) who lives in an idyllic and peaceful existence in the 1983 Pacific Northwest wilderness with the love of his life, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). After a violent religious cult called Children of the New Dawn brutally kills Mandy, Red hunts them all down for revenge.
There is no actor I’d rather watch take revenge against violent cult members than Nic Cage. When I saw this film was about Nic Cage taking revenge against the quasi-satanic cult that kills the love of his life, well that’s just a description of all I’ve ever wanted to see in film. I’d like to read from one of my favorite quotes from Roger Ebert about Nic Cage, he perfectly sums up his appeal with “There are often lists of the great living male movie stars: De Niro, Nicholson and Pacino, usually. How often do you see the name of Nicolas Cage? He should always be up there. He’s daring and fearless in his choice of roles, and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air.” Cage can elevate anything from trash to camp, but don’t be mistaken, he’s not a joke. He is simply just throwing a hail mary no matter the film. This film knows it stars Nic Cage. There’s a part where after snapping a bad guy’s neck and screaming, Nic Cage then immediately does a line of the bad guy’s cocaine with some shattered glass from their fight. I almost cried. This film is perhaps the most gloriously “Nic Cage” Nic Cage film. It’s a Nic Cage dream that I didn’t want to wake from.
Andrea Riseborough is always great to watch, and she embodies the angelic qualities of Mandy and personifies the fantasy elements of the film. Linus Roache typically plays benevolent, righteous characters (Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins, Michael Cutter in Law & Order) so it’s a delight to see him playing such a viciously evil character in Jeremiah Sands, the leader of Children of the New Dawn.
Panos Cosmatos and his co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn slowly yet successfully envelop us in a heightened reality like one lets the earl grey tea steep in the milk of a London Fog. This film is 2 hours and I wouldn’t cut a second. Characters talk in a dreamy state, and the lighting will change neon colors at will to enhance our understanding of this phantasmagorical state of being. Cosmatos puts a 16 mm grain over each image to heighten the haziness of it and further lure us into this nightmarish creation. The gore is delightfully hilarious and bad-ass, after all, Cosmatos is the son of George P. Cosmatos who made one of the great 80s action films with Cobra – bad-ass is in his blood. Johann Johannson concocts a hazy dream of a score, drawing from various inspirations all the way from doom metal to Vangelis to create a work that seeps you deep into the cosmos of the film.
This is already one of my favorite films of the year, and I look forward to whatever distribution deal it gets (A24, pick up the phone). This is just essential Nic Cage viewing, which is what I’m all about. I’m going to be high off this film for weeks, and I can’t wait until the rest of you get to see it. Wake me when I can experience this dream in theaters again.