Mandy: A heavy metal nightmare
Taking violence to the extreme, Panos Cosmatos’ 2018 film Mandy is a campy revenge piece with an eerie, psychedelic ambiance and a bloody development that has the formula for becoming an instant cult classic.
Let me just start by saying this: I never knew I needed to see Nicolas Cage going on a revenge rampage until I did. Set in 1983, Cosmatos’ sophomore film revolves around Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), a couple whose tranquil life in the woods is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a religious cult and their psychopathic biker henchmen. When the titular Mandy becomes the target of the cult’s latest attack, Red decides to hunt down each member of the sadistic gang and get the revenge he very much deserves.
With its 80s-nostalgia, Mandy is, at its core, a classic revenge movie, following in the footsteps of films like The Last House on the Left (1972) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Revenge horror is always effective and crowd-pleasing, and, most of the time, it has a shock element to it. Well, Mandy is pretty much a shock in itself. Starting off slow-paced, it actually took me a while to get invested in the story, even when I’m a sucker for films involving cults -it’s probably one of the tropes that I find scariest-. However, Mandy soon begins to take you on a ride of increasing violence and gonzo, drug-induced aesthetics; one that will make you repeat, scene after scene: what the actual f*ck?
The over-the-top violence and hallucinating visual extravaganza of Mandy goes hand-in-hand with two aspects: the film’s giallo-evoking use of loud colors pretty much in every scene, and the ominous music that makes you feel in the midst of a heavy metal concert. I didn’t know this before watching the film, but this was actually inspired by the sounds of doom metal, and it was one of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s -best known for his magnificent scores in several of Denis Villeneuve’s films- last scores, having passed soon after the film premiered in Sundance.
As a horror fan, something I found quite pleasing were a few similarities I could find with Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The scene alone where Mandy is at the kitchen table, tied up to the chair, is a clear reference to this slasher classic, right down to the close-up of her eye -also, apparently, the chainsaw duel might be a reference to the sequel, but I haven’t watched it yet, so I will not get into that-. But even beyond these seemingly obvious similarities, I think Cosmatos does an homage to the classic from the very essence of the film. Hooper shocked audiences back in the day with a film that was too violent and gory for its time. Mandy does the same, but brings it up to date, delivering a psychedelic gore-fest that surpasses the already high bar of tolerance to violence that viewers have nowadays.
I don’t know if most people will find this film as disturbing as I did. Fun fact: I actually had to pause it for a moment, watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother, and return to it after, because it was really too much violence for me. I would say without hesitation viewer discretion advised, but I think the disturbing nature of a film -extreme exceptions aside- is something quite subjective, so enter at your own risk and see what it makes you feel.
A key element to the film, the Black Skulls alone are something that will haunt your nightmares for days to come. A gang of creepy biker guys that could be straight out of a Hellraiser movie or a heavy metal band (with the perfect band name, I must say), who terrorize the town for no apparent reason. The film does not give an explanation to the origin or nature of these characters. However implied -as told by Bill Duke in a surprise appearance-, we never seem to make up our minds on whether or not there is a supernatural or demonic nature to them, what is it that makes them seek violence or what in God’s name is it that they drink when they’re summoned. Everything is open for interpretation, and it works perfectly that way.
Mandy is definitely something. It follows the structure of a classic revenge movie and, nonetheless, has an element of freshness to it. Its atmospheric, trippy, campy vibe makes for a perfect redemption of Nicolas Cage in all of his very own ‘Cage mania’. And as disturbing as it was for me, Mandy does bring a lot to the table in terms of modern horror, and it is definitely a must-see. One that has already gained the status of cult -pun intended-.