10/10 Mandy is an unquestionable masterpiece, the kind of completely uncompromised film that almost never gets made in the modern Hollywood era. It is an absolute privilege to see on the big screen, which you must do if you can still find the opportunity.
In 1983 in the Shadow Mountains, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and his wife Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) live in peace. But when cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) becomes enamoured with Bloom after making eye contact with her on the side of the road, he horrifying biker demons from hell to orchestrate a home invasion and, when Mandy refuses to submit to him, burns her alive in front of her husband. Miller, who is left to die, escapes, forges history’s most acid-friendly battle axe and hunts the cult down.
So, not much happens in Mandy. But have you ever seen not much happen so stylishly?
The lack of more than a bare bones plot defines Mandy as an experience. There’s extremely little dialogue, and the plot is so linear and so steadily paced it almost feels like watching a download bar.
Like a blind man focusing on his remaining senses, the meager plot directs a viewer’s attention to the sensory experience of watching the movie. The landscape feels like a living organism, becoming more and more hellish as the movie wears on and permanently bathed in a brutal neon mist. In the final shot implies that Miller has left planet Earth entirely.
Mandy represents the final score written by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who died in February. Jóhannsson rose to fame quickly with the rapturous scores of Sicario and Arrival, but Mandy may be the best representation of what it feels like to watch a Jóhann Jóhannsson-scored film. The film almost functions as a rock concert, with the slow guitar growl pacing and so perfectly complimenting the action.
Word of the film has spread as an ultra-violent romp featuring a completely unhinged performance from Nicolas Cage, and it very much is not that. It is supremely disturbing, and you leave the theater feeling like you’ve watched an extremely violent movie, but in actuality the violence is oddly subdued. Bloom is burnt alive in a canvas bag, so we don’t see her struggle. A beheading happens off-screen. There’s a chainsaw fight, yes, but you never actually see a chainsaw go into human flesh. At one point, Miller crushes a cultists skull with his bare hands, but in this movie filled with detail shots that hold for 10-20 seconds, this death is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. I wouldn’t come to Mandy hoping only for extreme gorey violence.
Similarly, if you’ve come to laugh at another whacky Nicolas Cage performance, this is not the movie for you. Cage keeps his cool for much of the film. In the only scene where he goes 100 percent hog-wild, it’s directly after his wife’s murder, and no one will be making fun. It’s as if the movie was purpose-made by writer/director Panos Cosmatos to give Cage a setting in which going full Nicolas Cage was finally the completely thing to do, and then still asked him to fit with the movie’s mesmeric psychodelia for most of the runtime.
Mandy is a revenge movie you feel in your bones, and Cage’s bathroom freakout is a major reason why. Far too many films shy away from the human consequences of violence, from real loss, and Cage’s minutes long panic attack of grief, rage, pain, shock and confusion is completely genuine.
He really goes there. The emotions that are traditionally understated are gutted out in his performance. The peace Miller and Bloom had built for themselves, the senselessness with which it was ripped away from them, it all feels more extreme and is communicated more fully than words could encompass with Cage’s wounded shrieks.
Just as Mandy is completely uncompromised as a work of art, it does not compromise in its relationship with viewers. You have to meet this movie where it is. Come as soon as you can, and come prepared.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and managing editor of The Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.