3 ½ (out of 4)
Panos Cosmatos first film Beyond the Black Rainbow was a distinguished failure – a visually consummate and narratively superficial sci-fi exercise born of relentless ambition regardless. Eight years later he returns to augment everything he experimented with in his debut. Mandy is a midnight movie masterstroke, undeniably and efficaciously psychedelic and superbly exhilarating.
Beginning with Cosmatos' familiar deliberation and obsessive ponderousness, Mandy unfurls into one of the most balls-crazy revenge flicks ever sincerely committed to celluloid. And despite verging into pure schlock and awe by midway, the direction never falters from painstaking craftsmanship. The most ludicrous moments of frivolous gore or an unCaged Nicolas doing his thing handily harmonize with a world of bad acid, mutated bikers, psycho cults and extra large chainsaws.
Riding right between cogent dignity and his illustrious insanity primed for compilation videos, Cage is cruising in top form. He hasn’t been put to use this appropriately since Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and his remarkable work as Red Miller stands with his most indelible turns. Ripped from his idyllic, isolated home in the woods with his titular girlfriend – an excellent Andrea Riseborough as a sympathetic, artistic metalhead – by strung out hippie freaks christened the Children of the New Dawn led by megalomaniac Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache as a vainglorious deceiver), Red takes up a blood-drenched crusade following Mandy's cruel death.
In the realm of visual filmmaking, Cosmatos' exploits are sensational, meticulous, resplendent – in short grainy, burnished perfection. Fueled by LSD and cocaine, the film's spiritual journey of vindication develops with an erratic, sublime beauty – Mandy is trippy as all hell. Although not exceedingly substantial in thematic or emotional composition, its outrageous pleasures in atmosphere alone aren’t exercised as ostentatiously as in BtBR.
This is an uncompromising cult film that basks in the pastiche and precedence of B-movie slashers and action flicks. As storytelling its the furthest thing from high art yet as audiovisual design (one of the late Johann Jóhannsson's final scores is an ideally ethereal counterpart) Mandy is transcendent. A meditative first act juxtaposes Mandy and Red's pastoral life with the New Dawn's delusional misgivings before the real title card finally appears an hour in. From there the kaleidoscopic medley shifts to deeply gratifying absurdity.
As with Beyond the Black Rainbow, Cosmatos style comes long before substance. Yet his restless fastidiousness would make Nicolas Winding Refn seethe with jealousy and the gonzo, perversely surreal results speak for themselves. Offering moments that provoke, mystify, hypnotize and take your brain cells down a path few filmmakers dare to even glance at, Mandy is a mad modern milestone and the best film of the year so far.
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