There are those among us who seem to want Nicholas Cage only at his most batshit insane, and it seems writer/director Panos Cosmatos — and, presumably, Cage himself — fall firmly into that category. I can think of no other reason why a film like Mandy could possibly have come to exist, a prefab cult movie that sets an improbably high bar for all subsequent Nick Cage nuttery and, in a just world, would only screen at midnight. Those of us who were hoping to see Cage revisit Wicker Man levels of crazy can rest easy, because Mandy delivers the goods and then some. If scenery chewing had its own Oscar category, Cage would be on this year’s short list.
For those unfamiliar, Cosmatos is the Italian-born, Canadian-raised son of the late George P. Cosmatos — director of films such as Cobra, Rambo: First Blood Part II and, somewhat more notably, Tombstone. In point of fact, it was the residuals from Tombstone that largely financed Beyond the Black Rainbow, the younger Cosmatos’s debut feature and a similarly psychedelic ’80s throwback horror picture. If Mandy is the logical (and I use that term loosely) outgrowth of Black Rainbow and suggests the trajectory of Cosmatos’s development in a broad sense, I stagger to think of what’s to come.
You may think you know what you’re in for with Mandy, but I can assure you that you don’t. The plot’s structure is bifurcated, with the first half dedicated to establishing Cage’s bucolic blue-collar life with his Shelley-Duvall-esque goth wife, only to see it subverted by unexpected and arbitrary ultraviolence. This leaves the entire second hour of running time available for some of the most cruel and creatively chaotic screen direction I’ve ever seen, with Cage slaughtering a cavalcade of quasi-Christian cultists in a quest to avenge his wife’s brutal murder. Yes, there’s a scene in which our star guzzles vodka and shouts unintelligibly in his underwear, but that’s just the cherry on top, so to speak. This is a film in which I can state, unequivocally, that Nicholas Cage literally hand-forging a giant axe with which to gruesomely dispatch his enemies is probably the 12th-craziest thing to happen. What more do you need to know?
Cosmatos’s sophomore effort plays like Nicholas Winding Refn by way of Darren Aronofsky with a uniquely grindhouse aesthetic, and if the director has thus far eschewed the high-concept pretensions of both Aronofsky and Refn’s recent work, one is left with the sense that he’ll get there once his budgets match his ambitions. There’s also a touch of the surrealist sensibilities of a David Lynch or even possibly Jodorowsky on display here — but comparisons aside, Mandyremains very much its own thing. If his first two films can be taken as any indication, Cosmatos could easily wind up on a short list of bankable genre-turned-prestige directors in the vein of Guillermo Del Toro or Peter Jackson.
If you want Nick Cage in full-blown psycho mode, you’ve got it. If you want demon bikers in bondage gear, you’ve got that too. If you want period-appropriate animated interstitials that look like they were pulled straight out of 1981’s Heavy Metal, look no further. If you want an old-fashioned revenge thriller with supernatural overtones and a deeply affecting emotional spine, I don’t know where else you could possibly find such a thing these days. And yet, Mandy is greater than the sum of its incongruous parts, a film that demands to be experienced as much as seen. It’s a film that not only establishes Nicholas Cage as the King of the B’s — and THE BEES!!! —it also proves that Panos Cosmatos is a cinematic force to be reckoned with.