Directed by Panos Cosmatos
Starring Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough
F.I.V.E. star rating:
F. Form: 5 / 5 [style, structure, technique]
I. Impression: 5 / 5 [impact, relevance, provocation]
V. Vision: 5 / 5 [audacity, innovation, perspective]
E. Experience: 5 / 5 [enjoyment, engagement, delight]
TOTAL: 100 / 100
There’s before Mandy and then there’s after Mandy. Very rarely do I get to experience a movie that chemically altered something inside me. I walked out of that theatre feeling like I was abducted by aliens and implanted with acid memories, forever haunted by the wide-eyed, bloodied phantom of Nicolas Cage. Insert Internet meme here. If you asked me about the details of the story, I couldn’t tell you because I had no idea what was happening most of the time. Once the opening frames are beamed on the screen, you are dropped in another planet and the movie doesn’t waste time explaining where you are or what you are looking at.
But between the motorbike demon summonings and crazy cult rituals, everything makes sense because the internal logic of the film stays consistent. Once you enter this world and begin to breathe in the unfamiliar air, you go with its flow. There are chainsaw battles and speedy tr ip sequences but for the most part it moves at a hypnotic pace like swimming in radioactive, mind-altering waters. Time doesn’t work normally here - it moves slowly. In fact, the normal functioning of physics and the natural world does not apply.
Strobe lighting would flicker out of nowhere, coloured lights would wash over from red to blue to pink and smoke and fog appear out of thin air. The animals are a mirage and the people are chimeras. Despite all the weird shit, the plot is simple enough to follow. Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) goes after a group of religious nuts who call themselves the Children of the Dawn after they abduct his girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). What happens to her was extremely uneasy to watch and I worried that this was yet another genre film that exploits its female characters.
That uneasiness remained with me until that picture-perfect finish showing a tender flashback, where despite all the insane twists and turns, director Cosmatos reveals the emotional core of the movie: the love and commitment between Red and Mandy. Their relationship isn’t a tick box. Mandy Bloom could have been a throwaway character. She could have easily been just the launchpad of the hero’s journey but because we spend a lot of time with her in the beginning and with Riseborough’s mesmerising performance, her character feels complete, making Red’s rage all the more convincing.
For a movie that throws so many things together, it might attract criticisms of lack of focus and disorder but for me that misses the point. This is a complete experience. A strange one for sure but beneath the surface there’s clarity. This is a film made with confidence and a lot of trust with its intended audience. It is a world conjured up and engineered by somebody who’s brain is not of this world and I look forward to what other worlds he will beam to the big screen next.