Thrill Kill Cult, by Bob Connally

24 Sep

In the age of memes and video supercuts, Nicolas Cage having meltdowns and pulling freakish facial expressions has taken up roughly 40 percent of the Internet’s content. It’s a fact. You don’t have to look it up. What can get lost in that though is that when it’s in service of the right filmmaker, Nicolas Cage’s unparalleled ability to become unhinged onscreen can be so much more than an out of context joke. In the service of director Panos Cosmatos (2010’s Beyond the Black Rainbow) and his new film Mandy, Cage delivers a mesmerizing and thrilling performance as a man with a personal mission to destroy a local cult.

Living in a secluded wooded area on the West Coast in 1983, logger Red Miller (Cage) lives happily with his artist girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough, The Death of Stalin). Seeming to keep to themselves, they enjoy spending evenings in watching schlocky horror films on TV. Out for a walk one day however, Mandy passes by a van full of deranged hippies. Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, Batman Begins) is the leader of the Children of the New Dawn and he instructs his followers to bring Mandy to him. Knowing that kidnapping her may require more than the aid of a small flock of easily manipulated hippies, Jeremiah enlists a biker gang called the Black Skulls to deal with the task and ensure Red doesn’t get in the way.

Mandy is a terrific example of the idea that how a movie tells its story is just as- if not more- important as what story it’s telling. At its core, this is a simple story and a fairly familiar one, but it’s the way that Cosmatos tells it, thanks in large part to the remarkable work of cinematographer Benjamin Loeb and production designer Hubert Pouille that makes Mandy something special. Looking a lot like the kinds of films Red and Mandy watch together and with an ample amount of red drenching the frame throughout much of the movie, Mandy is about as stylish as they come. The style though in no way comes at the expense of substance.

While Mandy is certainly reminiscent of the works of David Lynch and even more so, Nicolas Winding Refn, Cosmatos has his own voice and it comes through. A bizarre and very effective sense of humor pops up at times in Mandy that gives us a darkly funny Bill Duke cameo and an in world television commercial featuring a character called the Cheddar Goblin. Cheddar Goblin t-shirts will no doubt be making their way into the world in time for Christmas this year. While it’s a scene that in no way moves the story forward it does allow us to see into Red’s state of mind at a key moment and provides a laugh for the audience at just the right time. The scene illustrates that Cosmatos knows what he’s doing here and that can go a long way in building trust with an audience watching a film like this one.

For his part, Cage is extraordinary. Yes, he melts down, going Full Cage in Mandy’s second half but it is completely in tune with the film he is in. Red is a man on a warpath and nobody’s going to deter him, no matter how big the sword or chainsaw they may be wielding. Leaning into the madness and violence that its characters have unleashed, Cosmatos gives us a chainsaw scene that Bruce Campbell himself would raucously applaud. It’s one of the most wonderfully over the top and entertaining movie scenes in a long time, coming in a film that is chock full of over the top and entertaining scenes.

The biggest standout of Mandy’s supporting cast is Roache who gives Cage a run for his unhinged money. Jeremiah is a cult leader in the mold of Charles Manson, fancying himself a folk singer while drugging his followers into submission. He sees himself as favored by God, not to do serve God but to take anything and everything he wants. Roache’s performance is at once exhilarating and chilling to watch. He will almost certainly be unjustly overlooked come awards season but he’s fantastic here.

Mandy may be my favorite movie of 2018 to this point and it’s certainly one that will stay with me and with anyone else who watches it. You may hate it but you won’t be able to shake it. Every aspect of the filmmaking here is really special from its indelible visual style to the outstanding score by the late Johann Johannsson (Arrival). It’s unfortunate that its theatrical release is so limited (it is readily available at home on demand) because this qualifies as pure cinema. However you choose to see it though, see Mandy as soon as possible.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply