The first film featured in FIN’s “Extreme” series comes from Italian-Canadian filmmaker, Panos Cosmatos. With only two feature-length films to his name, Cosmatos has already established himself as one of the most style-conscious directors working in genre cinema today. His 2010 film, Beyond the Black Rainbow – although bit too style over substance for my taste – was the kind of distinctive, singular debut that makes one excited to see what the director does next. Fortunately, Mandy, the follow-up to that question, was well worth the eight-year wait.
Beneath the phantasmagoric aesthetic of Mandy lies a pretty simple revenge plot: Nicholas Cage – who already earned this year’s strangest performance with Brian Taylor’s film, Mom and Dad – is Red Miller. His partner, Mandy, played by Andrea Riseborough, is abducted by a cult fuelled on otherworldly LSD, the potency of which makes Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine (1977) look like a film about children’s tylenol by comparison. However, where things really take off is when the musician-turned-cult leader, Jeremiah, played by Linus Roache, beckons a gang of interdimensional bikers – imagine a cross between the sadomasochistic Cenobite creatures from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) and The Plague from Jason Eisener’s Hobo With a Shotgun (2010) – to do his bidding. They succeed in delivering Mandy to the cult, and thus begins Red’s apocalyptic journey for revenge.
Although Mandy is, overall, a less polished film than Beyond the Black Rainbow, this actually works in its favour. Cosmatos’ sophomore feature has a rougher, more urgent feel than its predecessor; the film itself has a grainy, textured look and its plot is much more propulsive. Perhaps its strongest point, though, is that it is willing to let the emotion exhibited by Cage and Riseborough ground the heightened aesthetic of the film, giving audiences an access point into its world – something I felt was missing from Cosmatos’ earlier film. Although Cage delivers the gaudy performance one has come to expect from him, it is Riseborough who steals the screen whenever she is in frame. Her enigmatic features lend a kind of crypsis to her character, allowing her to blend in to the frame as alluringly in the lush, crepuscular scenery found in the film’s early portion as she does under the red and purple lighting of its nightmarish later sequences.
Where Cosmatos shines is in his ability to embellish the traits and strengths of his actors by bringing them together with his own cinematic tastes and talents, which are on display in virtually every aspect of the film. Most notably, Mandy is imbued with ’80s pastiche, including an ominous synth score, an incredibly vivid colour palette, and at least one particularly effective freeze-frame. In the hands of a lesser director, all of this might come off as a bit contrived, but Cosmatos is able to make it his own; he handles the aesthetic elements with enough personality that it feels in service to the film, rather than nostalgia.
There is a short list of films I consider to be stamped with the label “future cult-classic”: Ti West’s The House of the Devil (2009), Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011), Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013), and Ozgood Perkin’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), to name a few. Mandy undoubtedly tops this list, and the programmers at FIN have provided a great justice in kicking off the Extreme series with this particular film; Mandy practically begs to be seen on the biggest screen, with the loudest sound, at midnight. Viewers should adhere to its plea.