The renaissance of Nicolas Cage can go on forever, so long as he keeps bringing his unpredictable talent to gonzo work like Panos Cosmatos’ follow up to Beyond the Black Rainbow.
Mandy sounds like a straightforward revenge thriller. In 1983, lumberjack Red Miller (Cage) and his wife, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), live an isolated life in the Shadow Mountains. When Mandy catches the eye of failed musician and cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, whose heartbreaking breakthrough in 1994’s Priest remains indelibly imprinted on my cinematic mind), his Children of the New Dawn—along with the gang of leather and spike-clad Ceno-bikers they ply to do their bidding with a special batch of LSD and the blood sacrifice of one of their own people—abduct her. When she does not react to the drugs—or Sand’s folk music—as the Manson proxy desires, he has her brutal murder staged in front of a bound Red, who escapes to seek revenge on Sand and his cronies after he retrieves his special crossbow and forges a sweet battle axe with which to combat the chainsaw-wielding baddies.
With his second feature, Cosmatos assertively blends ’70s occult fare like Race With the Devil with the gory ’80s aesthetic of Hellraiser to create a blast of brand-new that feels old. Cosmatos has a brilliant eye for trippy, drug-fueled visuals; Mandy looks like it should be viewed on the airbrushed side of a van rather than the big screen. Cosmatos wields his vision with the nighttime-tinted meticulousness of a nouveau-exploitation Michael Mann. The late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s striking, experimental score extends the comparison; his ambient, metal-driven soundtrack is as perfect a companion to Cosmatos’ visuals as those of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream were for Mann’s precisely composed films.
A self-indulgent streak does pad the running time to two hours on what should be a lean, mean hour-and-a-half of primo grindhouse fare, but more Mandy is not the worst thing in the world. If Cage focuses his energy on wild work with auteurs like Cosmatos in between the thrillers that pay his mortgage, he will go down as one of the greats of cult cinema. No one rages on a toilet in a tiger baseball tee and tighty whities like Nicolas Kim Coppola. He ensures that Mandy earns the highest compliment I can award: It watches like the diamond in the VHS rough of a sweet, five-for-$5 haul from Vision Video.