Cinematic Releases: Rock and Roll Me Until I'm Dead: Mandy (2018)

Panos Cosmatos, director of the eye-searing science fiction and horror hybrid Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) has returned to take us back into the neon-lit depths of his mind with Mandy (2018).

The plot of Mandy is a simplistic revenge tale with Nicolas Cage as Red, a man who has the love of his life, an introverted and soulful woman named Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) taken from him by a group of drug-addled cultists. Keeping the story simple was a fantastic choice as it allows Cosmatos to fill the space left from the lack of exposition with incredibly stylized visual flourishes. It's made very apparent that Cosmatos is a fan of heavy metal aesthetic as well as fantasy (even going so far as using the font style from retro fantasy novels in his chapter title cards). Deep magenta red is the color used most often with touches of soft blue and purples during the quieter, more emotional sequences. In the latter half of the film, everything is lit with fiery oranges and blood red, as it is meant to illustrate the hellscape of a man gone insane. The visual style is going to be the most divisive aspect of people's reaction to Mandy because it permeates every facet of the narrative.

Nicolas Cage puts in one of the best performances of his career--simultaneously reserved and over-the-top when it is required of him. While fans of Cage love him for his more manic moments, Cosmatos uses his energy intelligently by reserving it for the second half of the film where it can make the most impact. Mood is established first and foremost and the contrast between Red's character at the beginning of the film and at the end of the film is powerful. His relationship with Mandy is organic, full of the smaller beautiful moments, and the temptation to portray her as a manic pixie foil for Red is thankfully resisted. The entire world is reflected in her deep dark eyes and she is the linchpin of the entire film. 

The main antagonist is Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) a megalomaniac cult leader with a god complex that is fueled by his crippling insecurity. He is constantly oscillating between bouts of boastful pride and depressive breakdowns which makes his character unsettling and terrifying. It's almost impossible not to see this as a deconstruction of the darker parts of the male ego and masculinity as well as commentary on religion and fanaticism. Roache is perfect in this role and his performance should definitely be praised though it might get overshadowed by Cage's intense charisma.

This was one of the last films scored by Johann Johannsson who sadly passed away this year. Fortunately, it's some of his best work, combining lush ambient electronic soundscapes with doom metal guitar riffs. The music and visuals combine to make an overwhelming experience for the senses, a frenetic onslaught for the eyes and ears. Mandy somehow invokes both feelings of nostalgia and the awe of seeing something totally new and fresh. Cosmatos has crafted alternate dimension and allowed us a portal into this new universe though his film. Mandy is a triumph of both genre film-making and art, an unfiltered glimpse into the mind of an artist. It definitely won't be for everyone but it was definitely made for me.

--Michelle Kisner