Panos Cosmatos paints a beautiful nightmare of a film that’s as hypnotic as it is horrifying. “Mandy” is an unflinchingly visceral slice of genre-film perfection.
By Ankit Ojha on September 14, 2018

Welcome to chapter two of The Many Vivid Fever Dreams of Panos Cosmatos, an obscure manuscript that’s not real but might as well be true to life. Cosmatos’s (“Beyond the Black Rainbow,” 2010) sophomore effort “Mandy” stars SAG Award winner Andrea Riseborough (“The Death of Stalin,” 2017) as the eponymous Mandy and—surprise, surprise—Nicolas Cage (“Mom and Dad,” 2018) as Red. It’s the kind of hypnotic ‘Beautiful Nightmare’ that’s equally fascinating and terrifying but not surprising. The director seems quite comfortable obsessively exploring the unexplored in his creations—and he’s in no mood to stop.

Let me explain: much like George Miller’s “Mad Max” franchise—structurally more akin to “Fury Road” (2015) in particular—”Mandy” stands out for its hyper-stylized mood-piece treatment of otherwise B-movie material. Like Miller’s 2015 sequel, Cosmatos uses his nuanced storytelling power to illuminate the power imbalance in gender politics. Unlike its socio-political allegories, the film uses a fine-toothed comb to look for the terrifying consequences of male ego and predatory behavior. Men feel entitled to take what they think is theirs and disguise their god-complex and fragile self-esteem with the kind of pitch presentation in nobility that only humans of this kind are prone to creating.

Of course, in true Cosmatos fashion, Cosmatos tells an otherwise often-told tale of revenge and redemption in the most Cosmatos way a Cosmatos story can be said. It’s easy to mistake his visual narration for indulgence, but it’s not. The narrative has a razor-sharp focus, especially regarding the unique fashion it unfolds on screen. Awash with a bold color palette that diverges between cool blues, trippy magentas, cold indigos, and the bloodiest of reds, it’s obvious the director isn’t interested in having style and substance meet in the middle. For Cosmatos, style is substance. And that gets clearer as the film flits between the subtle nature of show-don’t-tell and hell-hath-no-fury gonzo madness through much of the runtime.

I’m Her // Andrea Riseborough in a still from Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy, a SpectreVision, UMedia, XYZ FIlms, and RLJE Entertainment film.

Most of the film’s narrative is driven with the help of visual cues. The smoke surrounding Cage’s Red and the antagonistic forces in the movie point, unmistakably, to Red’s journey into the eye of the storm—and there’s a rather interesting conversation about Jupiter early on in the film that sets it up. Cooler colors stay soft in their promise of a little haven far from the madding crowd and turn steely in the face of heartlessness and blind rage. The harsh, warmer shades indicate clear and present danger. It’s incredible how it’s used—all the way down to the minute detail of whether it’s creeping up on the hero or whether the danger IS the hero.

This is where the diverseness of Cage’s emotional range comes in—between the comedic, the traumatized, and the maniacal, “Mandy” ends up being a showreel of his entire skillset without being just that. Cosmatos makes sure his character has an enigmatic and fascinating backstory. The film doesn’t say anything to us; it’s on us to piece it all together. Picture this: Red walks to his old friend’s makeshift house. “I came for the Reaper,” he says. When asked why, he answers, “I’m going huntin’.” The exposition here is indirect, organic, and trusts the viewer to join the dots or, better yet, interpret their version of events the movie doesn’t show or talk about in its runtime. Of course, because he’s only a part of a larger world, we’re given glimpses of pathos, trapped souls, and broken people through and through.

More minor characters like Sister Lucy (Line Pillet; “Alleen Eline,” 2017), one of the cult members of the Children of the New Dawn—because you can’t get more delusional than that—are equally packed with layers and layers of silent but powerful character evolution. Linus Roache (“The Namesake,” 2006) as Jeremiah “Jesus-Freak” Sand is a jaw-dropper and hooks you with his talkative charm, a character trait masterfully used to hide one’s psychopathy. But the one performance that sticks with you long after is Riseborough, who plays Mandy. She may not be around for too long, but she stays long enough to both haunt you and make you cheer for her. She’s a tragic enigma, so it only fits for the movie to be known by her name because it shares that sense of mystery, unknowing, and utter devastation.

“Mandy” is a nightmarish fever dream that’s as hypnotic, horrifying, and emotionally devastating as you wanted it to be. While the film is equal parts psychedelic trip and unflinching body-horror insanity, the terror in Cosmatos’s action horror doesn’t come from the graphic nature of its gore. It’s in the predatory behavior of entitled men, the enablers who catalyze it, and the victims who are destroyed by it.