REVIEW: Mandy

Mandy (2018) is an interesting experiment in movie film-making. It’s a fairly typical revenge plot movie where a man has his wife murdered and he proceeds to hunt down and kill everyone involved. It’s a plot that has been done hundreds, if not thousands, of times. However, the movie’s style is something that needs to be seen to be believed. The music, the lighting, the atmosphere, and the characterization turn an otherwise bog-standard story of grief-fueled vengeance into a psychadelic journey through Hell. I would say it is a horror movie, revenge pic, and drug journey all in one.

In the Shadow Mountains of Eastern California, Red Miller (Nic Cage) and his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) are living a tranquil existence. Red is implied to be someone who used to be extremely violent as well as an alcoholic and substance abuser. He has gotten himself clean, though, and there’s no history of abuse with his girlfriend. Still, even before everything goes to Hell, there’s a slow sense of dread that he is someone who could very easily fall off the wagon into some place nightmarish.

Unfortunately, living nearby is a hippie pseudo-Christian cult led by Jerimiah Sand (Linus Roache) who is obviously based on Charles Manson. He’s a failed musician, teaches an utterly nonsensical ministry based on pleasure, and abuses his female followers psychologically as well as physically. Sand gets one look at Mandy while passing her in his car and decides he needs to get her to be his sex toy.

That’s when things get weird in a way that David Lynch would be proud of and do director Panos Cosmatos proud. Sand calls a group of Satanic bikers to him using an ocarina, offer them a blood sacrifice, and they kidnap Miller as well as Mandy. Mandy is shot full of drugs and killed after mocking what a pathetic piece of garbage Sand is despite being higher than a space shuttle. Miller is dumped out with the trash and proceeds to gather his head after a short period of mourning. What follows is utter insanity as he hunts down the bikers as well as Sand.

Weirdly, Mandy works very well as a modernization of Conan: The Barbarian. Miller is a guy who lives in the wood who used to be a savage warrior and thief but has retired. Sand is a Thulsa Doom-esque cult leader who has the allegiance of a bunch of genuinely dangerous warriors as well as raiders to aid his cult.

There’s even a scene where Miller forges himself a battle ax to help in his killing of the bikers. The bikers, themselves, are Satanic in a way that might be supernatural as they speak in “monster voice” while knowing things they could not possibly know. It’s also possible they’re just a bunch of guys who fried their brains on bad LSD as one friend of Miller speculates. Miller may be haunted by his dead wife’s ghost or he might simply be hallucinating due to trauma, head injury, and sampling the bikers’ batch of crazy powder.

There’s some truly fantastic scenes throughout Mandy. Nic Cage has had some terrible performances in his career but his combination of understated performance before going into bizarre hammy over-the-top weirdness works well for a guy who is literally on drugs while suffering from horrific trauma. Which is to say Nic Cage is great whenever he’s playing someone who there is just not something right with.

It’s a great movie if you can look past the fact Mandy is one of the best characters and the film suffers without her. It’s the kind of film that would have been made in the Eighties only it’s been done better here. There’s even subtle details that would be lost in a less skilled filmmaker’s hands like the fact Mandy owns a bunch of Eighties metal t-shirts and Sand tries to impress her with his awful folk rock.

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CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.