Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) live in the Shadow Mountains, far away from the world and the pain they carry with them. However, their idyllic lives are forever changed when a failed singer-turned-cult leader (Linus Roache) enters their lives and sets Red on a path of vengeance that will lead him through a blood-soaked, hallucinogenic world of super violence and demon bikers.
The problem - if you can call it a problem - with a movie like 'Mandy' is that it is so truly an acquired taste, so clearly designed and created without a shred of compromise or subtlety to it, that it ultimately demands the audience to either come on board immediately or reject it entirely. It's not as if the movie starts off with the chainsaw-wielding fights and leather-clad mutant bikers though. Instead, we're shown two broken people who have pieced together a quiet life for themselves and are deeply in love. Both Cage and Riseborough exude a calmness together that's heartwarming and believable, and when Riseborough's character recounts a simple but disturbing story from her youth, years of pain and torment is tangibly brought forth and made clear.
There are very few directors who would have the balls to work that kind of emotional beat into the middle of a movie like 'Mandy', and even fewer still who could make it work but that's exactly what Panos Cosmatos does here. When Nicolas Cage is screaming/crying and chugging vodka in his underwear, it has a context to it that makes sense. It's probably why Nicolas Cage is so often misunderstood in popular culture; that he's this raving psychopath who screams at the top of his lungs for no reason. When you see it as one scene and without the story behind it, yes - it looks crazy, but in the full tapestry, it's a moment of raw emotion and energy that takes on a completely different meaning compared with the inevitable memeification of it.
So much of 'Mandy' is wrapped up in the mood and the vibe that you could easily overlook the richer substance of the story. The cult leader Jeremiah Swan, played by the brilliant Linus Roache, is shown to be an embodiment of narcissism and vanity, believing himself to be the embodiment of God's will on Earth. When he confronts Mandy, the scene is so wrapped up in Cosmatos' blurred, LSD-drenched visuals that it almost eclipses both his performance and Riseborough's too - but, again, if you can get on board with the trip, it absolutely works. Likewise, Johan Johansson's overbearing doom metal score so often threatens to derail it, but instead it just folds into the experience of it all.
As mentioned, Nicolas Cage's performance is so raw, so purposefully feral and so emotionally open that it's easily his best in years - and he does it all with so little dialogue that when it does come out, it's almost a distraction. He's able to convey so much hatred, sadness and rage in his actions and his performance that throwing pithy one-liners on top of it would just ruin it. That said, Cosmatos and Cage both understand that there's a side to 'Mandy' that embraces the cliche of Cage and having him snort cocaine off a broken glass window that he just threw a biker through is evidence of that awareness.
'Mandy' isn't for everyone, of course. The swirling, grainy cinematography, the deep colours and the OTT violence, just the sight of Nicolas Cage forging a giant reaper - it can definitely be sensory overload, but if you can get to grips with it and you're on board for the ride, 'Mandy' makes for an unforgettable cinematic experience that deserves to be viewed in a darkened, grungy cinema with loud speakers and a giant screen.