There is something to be said for Panos Cosmatos's visual aesthetic, both in terms of its vibrancy and its uniqueness. I can think of no other director out there that utilizes a similar blends of visceral, saturated colors, appealing composition, and ethereal, surreal visuality. Even though I was mixed on Beyond the Black Rainbow, I could not deny that it was a stunning piece of visual art.
What Cosmatos has done with Mandy is refine his narrative ambitions and expand his unique visual aesthetic. While Beyond the Black Rainbow felt listless and lost in its own themes, Mandy feels lucid, in control, and always two steps ahead of its viewer.
Mandy follows Red, played by Nicolas Cage, who embarks on a bloodthirsty search for vengeance after a hippie biker gang rips his world apart. A better way to describe it, though, is John Wick on PCP.
While surrealist filmmaking often has this effect on me, I felt like I was in the middle of a fever dream while watching Mandy. Not only does Cosmatos lean into heavily saturated color schemes, dreamlike crossfades, and lens flares, the narrative itself feels barely tethered to our world. The gritty action helps give the film some balance that I think Beyond the Black Rainbow was lacking; however, that does not mean this feels like a realistic film. Quite the contrary; everything, from Cage's over-the-top performance, to the weapons he wields in the final act of the film, to the villains themselves -- many of them lacking any semblance of personhood or humanity -- feels like something pulled out of an 80s metal band's album cover, mixed with John Carpenter brand of gritty slasher-horror.
The benefit of this is how fresh Mandy feels in the modern cinematic landscape. There is nothing like this film in theaters right now -- nothing as bold, nor as insane, nor as invigorating. While Hollywood seems content resting on its laurels as it pumps out superhero films and franchises galore, Cosmatos has created a grungy cult classic, the kind from which his cinematic influences garnered their fame.
Mandy also gives Nicolas Cage the space he needs to create a truly impressive performance. It's sad to me that Cage has become such a meme nowadays (to be fair, he's done it to himself) because he is a genuinely good actor. Watching projects like David Gordon Green's Joe, or Spike Jonze's Adaptation., or even Mike Figgis's Leaving Las Vegas, it is clear that Cage can deliver a stunning performance when given the tools to do so. And while Mandy does give us the modern, "scream-his-lungs-out-at-the-camera" Nicolas Cage, Cosmatos also gives Cage space to truly act. The moments between the action, between the frenetic energy, Mad Max inspired villains, and saturated red hues show a man in torment, in mourning, overtaken by his emotions and drowning in his need for revenge. That is potent stuff, and it's a perspective I think Cage handles incredibly well.
If you go into Mandy expecting slick violence, tons of action, and a breakneck pace you will be disappointed. That's not the kind of film Cosmatos is trying to make here, nor is that the kind of film I ever see him making. However, for those who have the patience to sit through some of the more indulgent sequences in Mandy, you will find a stunningly unique, confident, and fresh vision that you will not forget anytime soon.
directed by PANOS COSMATOS
written by PANOS COSMATOS & AARON STEWART-AHN
Released Septmeber 14, 2018 || Not Rated || 121 MIN