It’s all but a beautiful dream.
At some point during Panos Cosmatos‘ acid trip of a phantasmagoric horror Mandy you will start to wonder if you’re the one tripping on LSD. It could be when oily ghouls on motorcycles arrive with the call of a stone horn’s whistle or perhaps when a severed jugular sprays blood all over our hero’s face as he screams in deranged delight. You’ll watch as the characters onscreen drink hallucinogens, prick others with the stinger of a giant insect, and snort cocaine—each new experience opening a mystical world where Jesus and the Devil overlap to form a deity representing nothing but the delusions of humanity’s ego. Cosmic wonders wait alongside earthly fire as the pain of the suffering is felt along our descent into the depths of Hell.
Cosmatos and co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn have delivered their dark adventure as one that simultaneously exists for mind and body, the line between nightmare and reality blurred by supernatural fantasy novel chapter headings and the red hues of rage seeping into the decadently thick lines of Art Nouveau-inspired animated terrors of empowerment. The hazy opaqueness of an otherworldly atmosphere hides the drug-fueled delusions of Jupiter’s surface as comically creepy television programs (and commercials courtesy of Cheddar Goblin) manifest into nearly impervious demons straight out of the Cenobites’ chapter of the Hell’s Angels. We move between planes of existence as vengeance takes hold to turn a blue-collar lover into a crossbow-wielding madman as wild as the nasties he’s about to battle. Eventually the psychedelic hallucination envelops you too.
And all the while a heavy progressive rock score plays with a King Crimson track transitioning into Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s eerie compositions to drive the visceral narrative forward with a surprisingly methodical pacing that makes you wonder what a leaner 90-minute cut would do to elevate your blood pressure more. We’re moved from cool blues of romance in a glass house to scalding reds of a warped God enslaving men and women to the biddings of a tempestuous black hole of a messiah preaching a selfish book of pride, desire, and possession. What was an off-kilter and mildly cheesy love affair between Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in the seclusion of the Shadow Mountains’ serene threats of mayhem makes way towards an engine-revving expressionistic epic bathed in blood.
It places this quiet workingman couple dressed with a Satanic aesthetic opposite a cult that easily sheds its white-robed motif of purity to reveal leader Jeremiah Sand’s (Linus Roache) truth of masturbatory self-aggrandizement. The latter spies upon Mandy, craving her as his own before setting into motion a series of events that leaves Red transformed into the Devil himself—an identity wholly unexplained and yet seemingly familiar considering an acquaintance (Bill Duke‘s Caruthers) has kept weaponry of his safe for what we assume has been years. Maybe the third act provides him a venue to exorcise his fury or perhaps Red never gets off the cross he’s tied to with barbwire. Maybe he faces off against evil incarnate or perhaps he succumbs to an understandable bout of insanity.
Either way the final hour is a no-holds-barred exercise in violence with otherworldly creatures, deluded sycophants, and a gorgeous multi-use metallic hammer/blade. If the first half drags it’s because of the drugs lending a vapor trail aura to the proceedings that screeches things to a halt so the players can find their positions on the board. Our opposing forces are introduced through surreal monologues of dream-states and holy missions to expose the supportive nature of one pairing and the other’s provocatively explosive chain of command. The stage is set for Red to wreak havoc with unrestrained madness so he can shed his heartfelt sorrow for seething hot aggression like only Cage knows how. His hysterics may have you laughing at times, but his psychosis is serious, justifiable carnage.
He more or less takes over from Roache who commands the earlier hour with scene-chewing, manic mood swings, yelling one second before pouting the next as the followers his character surrounds himself with span loyal (Ned Dennehy), devout (Olwen Fouéré‘s Marlene), brainwashed (Line Pillet‘s Lucy), and crazed (Clément Baronnet‘s Klopek). We eventually meet the chemist behind mason jars of pure transcendent lunacy (Richard Brake) and bask in the grainy old school look of film stock working overtime to adjust from light to dark in a cloudy mess of smoke and delusions—sometimes merging faces together so action and reaction overlap into a singular point of understanding. And besides the allusions to metaphors induced by Mandy’s art and enjoyment of macabre checkout aisle paperbacks, everything is as it appears.
This read helps us to open ourselves up to the sensory overload. Mandy isn’t without its tiresome moments risking an onset of boredom, but there’s always a payoff coming to render our patience worthwhile. Rather than try and decipher what might be happening on a more philosophical or spiritual level, simply bask in the horrific acts as those of an unbalanced hoard craving violence as a means for carnal pleasure. We’re watching an evil poorly masked as salvation infiltrating the lives of two souls who survive and flourish without the need of God. Cosmatos and Stewart-Ahn provide a glimpse at mankind’s penchant for false saviors preaching hate instead of understanding. For once Satan is the hero, the final bastion for individuality in a “pious” world killing to conform.
 Nicolas Cage as Red in the action, thriller film “MANDY” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.
 Andrea Riseborough ad Mandy in the action, thriller film “MANDY” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.
 Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sand in the action, thriller film “MANDY” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.