“Mandy” is a revenge movie of demolishing beauty and sustained rapture that I cannot help but love. How do you describe the gorgeous, grandiloquent vision that is the grief-lavished “Mandy” without denying the reader a personal discovery of its arterial cinematic essentialism? You could nod to the demented grace filigreed by writer-director Panos Cosmatos, co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn, cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, production designer Hubert Pouille, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, actors Andrea Riseborough, Nicolas Cage, Linus Roache, editor Brett W. Bachman. Or, could I ask you a small favor? Give yourself a treat and get to the Music Box this week and see Cosmatos’ glorious vision, this sustained howl of rage, on a big screen rather than on video-on-demand. “Mandy” is easily the most sustained mosaic of visceral action and consummate world-building I’ve seen since “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Cosmatos’ 2010 “Beyond the Black Rainbow” hinted at this level of imagination, but not this level of ambition. (Cosmatos tells just how personal “Mandy” is in a few paragraphs here.)
In the 1983 Pacific Northwest, taciturn lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) lives deep in the woods with artist wife Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), a fellow outcast. Enter: the Black Skulls, a “trans-dimensionally aware” crew that abducts Mandy for the nefarious purposes of the Manson-ish leader of the Children of the New Dawn sex cult. We have a setting, a simple setup and, soon, a succession of bold, trippy, baroque, primal, exsanguinating setpieces. Cosmatos described his approach, taken in scene after scene, image after image, to Filmmaker magazine: “I wanted to create something like a heavy metal album cover from the 1970s.”
The air is close, the atmosphere dense. No camp: only galvanizing formal and tonal control. Plus splatter: when there is blood, there is blood. Once Cage is let loose, he turns volcanic: alarmingly, elementally, rockingly so. Please note when Cage places his face in a geyser of red, the barrage does not stop: two forces of nature do battle. Cosmatos and Loeb work in dense widescreen compositions, often in alluringly long takes; the special effects of many stripes elevate the succession of memorable hallucinatory imagery; and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s final completed score is one temblor after another of tectonic emotion. With Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, Richard Brake, Bill Duke. 121m. (Ray Pride)
“Mandy” opens Friday, September 14 at the Music Box, whose big screen provides the proper experience, rather than video-on-demand.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.