As a kid, writer-director Panos Cosmatos would gaze at the luridly colourful empty VHS covers on display at Video Addict, his local rental store, and let his imagination do the rest. In 2010 he finally got to channel his potent daydreams into Beyond the Black Rainbow, a first feature that played like the quintessential late 70s cult sci-fi horror movie. In his words, he had created “a film that is a sort of an imagining of an old film that doesn’t exist”. With Mandy, his long-awaited follow-up, he dives straight back into the same low budget, dread-soaked pool to conjure something even more compelling, straight from the video shop of your dreams. Mind you, if you tried to rent this one in 1983, someone else would surely have gotten there first, just like they always did with the Evil Dead, Videodrome and The Thing, the buggers.
The year, appropriately enough, is 1983 and we’re in the company of a lumberjack called Red (Nicolas Cage) and his store clerk girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). These two damaged souls have found each other in a remote region called the Shadow Mountains, where they live in quiet solitude in a bizarre house constructed almost entirely of panel windows. This means that, unnervingly, they sleep in full view - all the better for unwanted intruders to case the joint. One day while Mandy is winding her way to work, she locks eyes with a man in a passing RV. This is Jeremiah, Jesus-styled leader of a cult psycho hippy tribe called the Children of the New Dawn. Played with odious relish by Linus Roache, Jeremiah is clearly a man used to getting what he wants, and now, having seen her, he wants Mandy. He has useful assistance in the form of the most powerful LSD ever created and a chain-clad biker gang with knives for limbs (and other appendages, as it turns out) and the look of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser Cenobites.
Mandy is a film of two halves, both of them brilliantly conceived and executed. Initially we’re in sweaty-palmed Wes Craven territory, the sadistic capture and drugging of Mandy transposed with poor Red’s agony as he’s gagged and forced to bear witness. You’re not sure what direction the film will take after this, but the track-jump Cosmatos makes is just majestic: the second half is a huge exhalation of pent-up vengeance that rides a wave of invention unlike anything you’ll see on the big screen this year. Extreme gore, bonkers sex and drugs, crazed animation, chainsaw battles, rug-pulling concept twists - it unfurls like a rock opera on acid in a cosmic graveyard, powered along by a blitzkrieg musical assault from the late composer Johann Johannsson. The cumulative effect is a drop-kick to your blasé expectations.
At the centre of it all is a mesmerising performance from Nicolas Cage, re-wired from victim to dark avenger, upping his fabled ‘Cage Rage’ to 11 yet never overpowering the film itself, so custom-built is it to accommodate him. If it occurs to you as he slashes, shoots and screams his way to the climax (pausing only to snort a giant heap of coke off a shard of broken mirror) that you are witnessing his finest hour, you’d be dead right. Indeed, Cosmatos’s real achievement is that despite all the madness and hyper-violence, his performances are utterly believable and affecting. The intimacy created in the first half between Cage and Riseborough plays brilliantly into the crazed trip of the second, making it gripping and immersive even when you’re watching a man crush another man’s head until his eyeballs pop out.
Mandy is a glorious rough diamond in the pristine corporate dust of modern genre cinema that confirms Panos Cosmatos as one of the most essential filmmakers working today. See it with your mates on a big screen.
MANDY / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: PANOS COSMATOS / SCREENPLAY: PANOS COSMATOS, AARON STEWART-AHN / STARRING: NICOLAS CAGE, ANDREA RISEBOROUGH, LINUS ROACHE / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 12TH (UK)