Writers: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ann, Chris “Casper” Kelly (Cheddar Goblin Ad – This Should Be A Real Ad)
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Andrea Risenborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Richard Brake
From the director of Beyond The Black Rainbow, comes something of a trippy occult film that later turns into a post-Deliverance revenge film quite similar to The Crow with a dash of Hellraiser and Mad Max, albeit with crass Evil Dead friendly humor. To the modern viewer, it might almost seem as if you’re watching two movies and that I feel is kind of the problem.
Make no mistake, the cinemotagraphy is amazing here. I would even daresay eye-popping. Folks, I have never seen a film that looked like this in my entire life. I only have slight nitpicks in the animated scenes, because the hair was a bit rough flapping around and they probably could have found a better animator on Deviant Art. I mean, have you even seen some of the depth and detail that has gone into some of the Bowsette pics that were floating around a few weeks ago? Some people are very dedicated to their craft, but that didn’t appear the case here. I was extremely disappointed when what looked like the cover to a synthwave album was offset by such a crude female drawing that didn’t even match the synthwave-esque nature of the background piece. It would have been better if the female drawing wasn’t used at all, it’s like throwing mayonnaise onto peanut butter and then calling it a sandwich. Thankfully, these animated scenes are few and far between. They only seem to be used as dreamstates for when our protagonist is asleep.
As for the plot, (and this is spoiler heavy) it’s quite bizarre. The year is 1983 and protagonist Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) and his girlfriend/wife (it is never made clear) Mandy Bloom (Andrea Risenborough) live happily together in the middle of fucking nowhere. She runs a shop selling various items, while he works as a lumberjack. In any case, they seem to be quite glued to each other and despite her rather fair level of attractiveness (I’m sorry folks, I just didn’t feel that Risenborough was all that attractive in this film) he certainly thought the world of her. She was also very brainy, which had me suspect to a later part of the film, but I’ll get to that later.
The Deliverance similarities begin when we are introduced to a crazy religious cult that wants to for some reason, take Bloom from Miller because their leader known as The Chemist (Richard Brake) apparently saw her on the road one day and decided he wanted to sacrifice her. You know, he just got a wild hair up his ass and decided that this was something he’d be interested in. So they decide to use the horn of Abraxas (which actually looks more like an ashy version of the ocarina from The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time) to summon what are some admittedly late-arriving demons (perhaps they were all taking shits in the woods?) that arrive on of all things, ATV’s. In any case, these demons (who look like Cenobites at a biker rally) make a deal with the religious cultists as the girl is later taken by these monsters to an old country home that looks kind of like you’d expect from Resident Evil 7 . The family who lives there is just as crazy too. As Bloom wakes up to find that she is sitting at a table, she is then forced by Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouere) to have a substance dropped into her eye from a syringe and is also stung by a odd sort of hornet. The hornet is definitely animatronic, but I appreciate the old-school approach taken to film-making here. It also made me wonder if ancient people would use this same process of deliberately stinging themselves with insect venom in order to partake in said transcendental journeys.I feel that such an act definitely has that level of occultism to it and is worth personal study. Regardless of that, these substances end up making cult mastermind with a messiah complex Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) appear larger than life and sort of like a Power Ranger/Super Sentai outcast. He mentions in arrogance that he while he likes The Carpenters, his own music is better. He also holds up a copy of a vinyl album, though I could not discern the name of the artist. I was curious as to whether or not it was a real album that had been repurposed for the film. In any case, his music sucks and King Crimson, Camel and Pink Floyd were putting out better shit around that time anyway. It was 1983, some great prog records had already released that would tear his music to pieces. Not to mention the new wave movement, you had artists like Tears For Fears and The Smiths, not to mention the fucking heyday of Heavy Metal. There were dozens of metal artists, even in the era of hair metal that produced better shit than Sand. Not to mention Sabbath, Priest, Maiden… Seriously, the guy’s music was utter crap in comparison. However, he thought that he was so great that his miniscule penis would suffice even a drugged up version of Mandy, who ended up laughing at him. The laughter scene is quite funny, but it may induce a bad trip if you’re watching the film on acid, which I’ve seen some people talking about – so be wary with that.
The film admittedly changes to a scene where our protagonist is tied up, pierced in the side and forced to watch a not-so-deadly game of Russian Roulette. After that, he’s once again forced to watch the love interest burn to death (even though later shots will show that there’s nothing in the bag, they could have at least used a fake model to make viewers think it might have been a real person. While I would never advocate the burning of sex dolls, their very lifelike appearance would have worked wonders in this scene. People would be leaving comments wondering if someone had really been burned to death and that would have sparked enough controversy to give this film a much wider appeal.) In any case, this leaves our protagonist emotionally scarred as he is left there to watch her burn. The cultists and the demon bikers pack up and go, driving off to leave him there to rot. Supposedly.
Even though Miller wasn’t able to when it would have actually mattered, he somehow manages to free himself and decides to go back to his place where he loses his fucking mind. After nearly drinking an entire bottle of alcohol while at the same time pouring it on his wounds, he screams profusely and later decides that he’s going to get his vengeance. Now here is where things get interesting – After visiting a friend to declare that he is “going hunting” we hear about the story of a mysterious group of bikers that underwent a strange dose of LSD and became The Black Skulls. (Bullshit, they’re demons. They look like demons, they talk like demons, they’re demons. No weird strain of LSD is going to turn you into a demon. End of story.) In any case, our hero decides that he also wants to make an axe similar to the one used in Infinity War and I really think that the team behind the film should find a metallurgist to make actual replicas of this axe. Because people will want it, for home defense if necessary. You know, just saying.
Miller successfully takes down the Pinhead knockoff all of the way to the back of the ATV crew (because these guys couldn’t afford actual motorcyles) with a crossbow bolt, to which he then proceeds to run over with his car. The biker shoots twice, but he is no match for the speeding metal behemoth. Though neither is the vehicle a match for the refuse of the biker, which causes it to flip over and our anti-hero to black out. Once again, we find him tied up, though it is not for long as the only member of the The Black Skulls with bathroom duty is standing in his way of freedom. The biker tears open his shirt, to which the famous line “that was my favorite shirt, asshole” appears. Miller then finds himself to be more loose than expected and beats the biker over the head with a pipe, later tossing him down a shaft. As he then stumbles to his feet, he notices that the place really isn’t too shabby for a demonic biker’s hideout. There’s a woman asleep next to a dead body in a bed, but nothing is known about her. Seriously, nothing. He just walks by her and we never see her again for the rest of the film. Creeping by what I’d consider to be an absolutely pristine bathroom (seriously, go look at the toilet – you would expect demon bikers to be much more messy) he proceeds to kill another biker, snort some of his coke (and you gotta love that constant porno loop on the TV, it must match his IQ level) and then grab his crossbow out of the cabinet as well as the axe. Somehow, he just happened to know where they were located in the hideout.
After leaving the hideout, Miller finds another biker and brings his life to an abrupt end as well. The biker creepily chants over and over, “she still burns.” After the bikers are defeated, he then confronts the cultists as everything from epic chainsaw battles to an offer for a blowjob ensues. Then Mother Marlene tries to get some from him as well. There’s a lot going on here. The funniest thing about the film though; is that Jeremiah Sand, the messianic cult leader with more than one screw lose reveals himself as a punk that says, “don’t hurt me” and “I’ll suck your dick” which I was actually hoped would happen. Unfortunately, this doesn’t. So here’s my interpretation of what could have happened and arguably would have made the film a little bit more twisted, which myself and the target audience (again, arguably) would have liked.
If you’ve ever seen Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, then you may remember such a scene where this occurred with Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Major Marquis. The scene I’m proposing would have followed in much the same way, with my only difference being that we would have seen Miller decapitate Sand’s head with his sharp implement while in the middle of said blowjob. To that extent, our newly frazzled cultist would have clenched his teeth, resulting in the protagonist pulling off the man’s head from his member and throwing it to the ground, where it would repeatedly utter one simple phrase in traditional Evil Dead fashion. Perhaps “she still burns” would again suffice here as that would have been a haunting little closer before Miller’s angered foot smashed it to bits before walking out of the strange building and into his car where he drives off into the sunset. This probably would have made the film a bit less anticlimatic, which is the problem that some people seem to have had with it. Even so, the soundtrack (which actually contains a few doom riffs here and there) in addition to the cinematography work to make what begins rather slowly and ends rather abruptly, into a surreal experience that is as trippy and mesmerizing as it is wanton and chaotic. It is both beautiful and incredibly brutal, which almost earns it the pseudo-label “brutiful” in my opinion.
Mandy won’t appeal to everyone and some metal heads will probably fall asleep during the first thirty minutes of the film, but if you can hold out long enough I can assure you that your long wait will be rewarded with an unexpected amount of violent aggression on the level of the first Manhunt title. Maybe even a bit more violent than that, to be honest. It is admittedly a bit odd as to why this at first seemingly meditative experience (and Johan Johanssen’s soundtrack really doesn’t help matters much either) later erupts into one of the most sickening and depraved explosions of savagery that I’ve seen from a film in years, but that is definitely the case. It is also where I come back to my first qualm and the fact that it feels like viewers are getting two movies here. Admittedly, some of the slower portions could have been edited down for cohesion and the slowdown really feels like a literal waste of time compared to the real meat of the film. I’m fine with tripping out, but please keep the story consistent. That also means giving viewers a not-so-cryptic ending. Even though Miller avenged Mandy, she still burns, so what was the point? This is never really explained, as well as a lot of other things. I wouldn’t have a problem picking Cosmatos’ mind (and it feels like I’m talking about a black metal musician when I type that) about these subjects, because I feel that the viewers who spent the time to watch his work deserve at least some kind of explanation into this world he has created. I’d rather not fill it in for myself. That being said, I didn’t want to discuss the details regarding many of the action and death scenes in this review or I’d literally spoil what in opinion are some of the best parts of the entire film. Even though the film’s protagonist is victorious, he certainly has a long road ahead of him and I really do not think that the journey need to be continued, unless it is in comic book form. Do not make another film, the story could be expanded properly in a surreal and rather violent comic book. That would be just fine with me.
The Grim Tower highly recommends Mandy, which I will admit probably wasn’t the best title for this film. You may think of it as a children’s film by name alone, but that is clearly not the case. Mandy is still playing in select theaters and will be streamed exclusively on AMC’s Shudder. Physical releases will also be arriving soon. A trailer for the film can be found below.