Panos Cosmatos’s second film drips with psychedelia, indulges in rock-and-roll and steers away from pomposity whenever it can.
Mandy opens with a short epigram: “When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones on my head and rock and roll me when I’m dead.” The quote is attributed to a Texan accused of robbery and murder. Although the film doesn’t acknowledge its author, it prepares us for what’s to come: rock-and-roll rage, psychedelic visions and free-flowing gore. Various animated titles appear throughout, signalling new chapters, but the title card doesn’t appear until the story is well underway. Instead, it arrives with the lunatic ride of the final act that features a chainsaw fight, deathmatch with porn playing in the background and heavy coke snorting.
Before the film pushes the pedal to the metal and throws us into the midst of high-octane ride, a picture of serene domestic life takes over the screen. Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) have found their place on Earth: they live in a remote forest away from the civilisation. He works in a local lumber yard, she spends her days reading in a small shop, and they don’t lack anything in their calm life. But a gentle reminder in the shape of psychedelic imagery keeps our guard up. The vivid, surreal images grow on us slowly before they’re allowed to explode: the early shots drown Red and Mandy in blues and pinks throughout their planet pillow-talk, transition to a starry sky over the forest, only to move to flames that devour the campfire. Overlaid on other shots, fire burns brightly in short interjections, carrying a prophetic weight that brings dissonance into this bucolic landscape.
The movie may prepare us for it, but a goth feast of colour and sound storms into the story frenetically, taking no prisoners. When an extravagant cult leader Jeremiah Sand spots Mandy on the road, his burning desire to include her in his polygamic gang makes him unable to think about anything else. Late at night, his disciples summon a devilish biker gang, then break into the couple’s home. They torture Red and drug Mandy. Her narcotic daze turns into a visceral experience: the shades of red, pink and blue combined with slow motion and transitions lead into a full-blown psychedelic vision, supported by distorted voices and echo.
Complete with ear-piercing sounds, the film uses every medium available to cast the experience on the viewer and submerge them in the story. Its unsettling atmosphere is also supported by Johann Johannson’s brilliant soundtrack. Mixing ethereal sound of synths with unsettling guitar riffs, he created the air of danger and uncertainty that seeps through the story.
The director gave Cage a permit to push the boundaries, which results in a deranged, maniacal persona that matches the exuberant surrealism of the entire film. His character starts with softness and sweetness to transform into a pain-ridden vigilante, juggling behaviours from two completely different ends of the emotional spectrum. That makes for particularly poignant and tender moments in the story, but the actor isn’t afraid to make the most of the comedy that emerges from the change. In a half-comical, half-traumatising bathroom scene, he screams in pain, throws himself about and downs liquor interchangeably, only to spout the most outlandish responses to the situations he finds himself in later. Keeping up with the flippant moods of the film, he milks every single moment of this cinematic frenzy.
Mandy opens as a part of the London Film Festival. The film is released in the UK on the 12th of October 2018.