I've been eagerly anticipating the follow-up film from director Panos Cosmatos. Beyond the Black Rainbow was an aesthetic delight, but the film's chilly mood kept it from ever hitting a home run. Still, it was a picture that showcased immense promise and guaranteed that the next project from Cosmatos was guaranteed to have my eyeballs.
Who could have predicted that Cosmatos' second feature, Mandy, would not only be a vast improvement on Beyond the Black Rainbow, but it would go down as one of the absolute best films of 2018? Cosmatos has taken everything that worked from Beyond the Black Rainbow -- the psychedelic visuals, the moody score, and a dreamy editing style -- and injected a story that's familiar but full of heart, passion, and raging insanity.
Actually, the core story is fairly accessible; a man seeks vengeance on a group of people for the death of his girlfriend. It's a tale as old as time, but Cosmatos and co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn take that familiar spine and dress it up with oodles of phantasmagorical flair. Mandy (a spectral Andrea Riseborough) is kidnapped by a Manson-esque cult led by failed musician Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache in his oiliest role ever). After she is murdered in a brutal fashion, her lover Red (Nicolas Cage) seeks the evil-doers out and exacts bloody revenge.
To get into all the devilish particulars of Mandy would spoil some of its flavorful fun, but rest assured that Cosmatos weaves a web of weirdness throughout the entire picture. Set in a kaleidoscopic 1983 in the Shadow Mountains, Mandy is a movie from another dimension. It's a place where all your fantasy-inspired heavy metal album covers come to life. Imagine if Hobo with a Shotgun took an entire sheet of LSD and you'll start to scratch the surface of Mandy's unique madness.
But, don't take that to mean Mandy is all style and no substance. Thanks to surprisingly grounded performances from all the main players -- yes, even Nicolas Cage, who will satisfy those of his fans that like to see him unhinged -- Mandy ends up having a ton of heart. We spend just the right kind of time getting to know Red and Mandy, both as individuals and as a loving couple. There is an economy to the character building in Mandy that seems like it would go overboard in the film's two-hour running time. Instead, the movie never drags and keeps pulsing forward towards a concurrently gruesome and transcendent finale.
And if you're just looking for some base pleasures, Mandy will satisfy any hungry gorehound. As of now, Mandy lays claim to some of the most effective moments of violence in any 2018 film. Plenty of them are cathartically amusing while others go straight for the gut. Seriously, the way Mandy is killed had me cringing in my seat. Still, you'll have tons of applause-worthy deaths once Red starts hacking away at the monsters that took his love away. Which, I can't help but comment on a few specific characters in the film. They can only be described as cenobite bikers. They are freaky in the best of ways and I'm betting they'll become favorites of the weirdos who are going to love this film.
And I LOVE Mandy. It's a midnight movie masterpiece that delivers on everything you want and more. Rather than aping elements of retro cinema, Cosmatos takes them and blends them into something that rejects nostalgia and embraces its own brand of bizarreness. Mandy is a genre-defining work of insane brilliance. Do not miss this one. It has the potential to be an all-timer.