Blu-ray Review: MANDY

Acclaimed hallucinatory horror drama is now on Blu-ray

There’s a primal, animal power that propels director Panos Cosmatos’s acclaimed experimental horror head-trip MANDY. A kind of danger pulsing beneath its arcane imagery, bubbling-forth from its moaning electronic music and arch, hissing dialogue. The film just feels alien. It feels evil.  It courses with a sort of seething darkness and descends into such brain-swelling madness that you can almost smell it.

Since its early festival appearances, the picture has armed itself with a torrent of critical buzz and within weeks of its brief theatrical release has become an instant cult film. And it deserves its reputation and its fevered following. Certainly the presence of contemporary expressionist actor Nicolas Cage as its rage-riddled protagonist has provided the hook in which MANDY has mysteriously ingrained itself into the mainstream, with many scribes citing that Cosmatos (who previously gave us the bizarre and even harder to grasp BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW) had finally given Cage the psychedelic landscape in which his brand of bug-eyed, screaming method acting could thrive, or at least seem less glaringly misplaced. They’re half right. This is one of the most ideal cinematic landscapes for the performer to play in, but his work here is not merely camp, nor is- despite its over-the-edge nature – the film itself. MANDY is in fact a grand guignol phantasmagoria of the highest order, a living, breathing work of art and a bona fide nightmare blasted onto the parameters of the moving picture.

The plot of MANDY is elemental. Here, Cage plays Red (a character that echoes in some respects his equally mesmerizing turn in HALLLOWEEN director David Gordon Green’s brilliant 2013 dark drama JOE) , a rugged logger who lives a quiet life in the deep woods with his beloved wife and soulmate, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). Embraced in their womb like cottage, the pair are inseparable, their passion palpable. When the doe-eyed, scar-faced Mandy goes wandering in the woods  one night (or is it day? Night and day seemingly bleed together here) and catches the eye of a roving cult leader (Linus Roache, PRIEST) and his sycophantic, drug-addled followers, she and Red are beaten and kidnapped by a mythical band of motorcycle riding meth-mutants and “delivered” to the cult. Mandy resists the leader’s perverse, egomaniacal come-ons and is in turn burned alive, while her husband watches, screaming. We watch too, of course and while the sequence itself is difficult to endure, Cosmatos bathes it in such poetry and pathos and delirium that it becomes almost beautiful, like a SUSPIRIA-bathed version of THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. When the smoke clears, the left-for-dead Red, frees himself from his bonds, loses his mind and arms himself as he goes deep, deep, deep into the forest, into the heart of darkness to hunt and kill the monsters, human and otherwise.

It’s difficult to describe MANDY without making it sound like a conventional revenge-fueled horror movie and while it IS a simplistic DEATH WISH informed thriller at its core, Cosmatos has no interest in making Red’s journey conventional or familiar. He takes his time sinking into the rhythm of the film, creating a sense of unease and baroque beauty from the very beginning, with King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black” slithering majestically across the soundtrack while he introduces his magenta-tinted netherworld.  Characters speak sparingly and when they do converse, its about the cosmos, mythical things, unknowable things. So meandering is MANDY’s opening  half hour that many viewers might tune out and it’s almost as if Cosmatos is daring you to stay inside his hot, fluid little Hell. But if you do stick around, if you are patient, he rewards you with visions so maniacal that they’ll be burned onto your brain for longer than you might wish them to be there. And if nothing else, MANDY is the only film I have every seen to honor obscure American indie director Don Dohler, with scenes from Dohler’s wonderfully awful no-budget monster mash NIGHT BEAST weirdly spliced into the picture’s story.

RLJE’s Blu-ray release looks astounding, with DP Benjamin Loeb’s darks and bright reds and blues melting the screen and even if you missed being swallowed by the film in a theater, seeing it on the best possible monitor will dazzle your senses just fine. The disc’s features are spare, with a brief behind the scenes doc and a few deleted scenes that were understandably removed from the final cut plus a longer look at the now famous Cheddar Goblin ad. Simply put, there’s no other film like MANDY. It’s not a movie to watch. It’s an experience to be had, an environment to lose yourself in. And it will damage you.