The world of heavy metal is a fascinating one. I never really got into the music, but the whole aesthetic and culture attached to it is legitimately one of the most intriguing subcultures in all of popular music. Growing up I was obsessed with classic rock, and ended up getting very close to heavy metal, especially the bands that kind of became the grandfathers of metal, but the genre itself just has never done much for me. But, and I’m about to admit to one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done with my stupid life, in college I took a class that examined heavy metal from an almost anthropological standpoint, as if metalheads were a different culture that we were exploring from afar. It was an incredibly bizarre class, but an immensely enjoyable one that really confirmed one important thing about heavy metal for me. I adore everything about metal culture except the music. Because metal really is an incredibly dorky thing. The aesthetic that it’s built up is primarily based around fantasy, sci-fi, and an almost Dungeons & Dragon’s level of nerdiness. The album covers, the theatrical stage-shows, and lyrical subject matter combine with a hilariously over-stuffed sense of masculinity to create a whole vibe that can only be described as metal. Its an aesthetic that I really enjoy, and whenever a narrative work is able to dive head-first into that aesthetic I find myself easily getting on board. And I bring all of this up because we’ve just been given a new film that is one of the most successful attempt to bring the metal aesthetic to the big screen I’ve ever seen. It’s called Mandy, and its fucking rad.
Mandy tells the tale of a happily married couple living a quiet life of solitude in the Shadow Mountains in the early eighties. Red Miller is a taciturn lumberjack and Mandy Bloom is a fantasy-loving artist who works at a convenience store in between reading fantasy paper-backs and painting giant murals. They lead a very contented life, until something arrives in their small town to shatter everything. A bunch of hippies. Specifically a group of cultists called the Children of the New Dawn. They’re heading through the Shadow Mountains to set up a new church in an abandoned mine, and as they drive by Mandy and Red’s secluded home disaster strikes. Because the leader of the cult, Jeremiah Sand, sees Mandy and immediately decides that she must become a member of his new family. But, while the Children are fully willing to kidnap a woman, they don’t really have the necessary means to do so. So, they call up a trio of psychotic murderers who have been utterly destroyed by years of bad LSD, transforming themselves into motorcycle riding demons. They make an arrangement with the demons, and arrive at Red and Mandy’s house to fulfill their end of the bargain. The demons help the Children break into Red and Mandy’s house, and things get dire. They beat Red up, and tie him up in the back yard with barbed wire, and dose Mandy with some LSD. Jeremiah then attempts to lull Mandy into the children, primarily by having her sleep with him. But, instead, Mandy just laughs at him, embarrassing him in front of his Children. So, Jeremiah responds by tying Mandy up and lighting her on fire in front of Red, standing by while he watches his wife burn to death.
The Children then leave Red behind, assuming he’ll die from his wounds. But, Red doesn’t die. He gets out of his barbed wire bonds, and gets inside where he promptly drinks a lot of vodka and starts plotting. The next day he suits up and heads out to talk with an acquaintance of his, Caruthers. Caruthers has been holding a powerful crossbow and set of arrows for Red, and even has some information. He tells Red all about the demons, and points him in the right direction. He then helps Red forge a massive battle-ax, finishing off his preparations. Red then heads out in search of the demons, and finds them pretty easily. He tries attacking them with his crossbow, but ends up getting wounded and taken prisoner in the process, and brought back to the house that the three men have made their lair. But, after quite a bit of bodily harm and bloodshed, Red is able to escape, and kill all three of the demons. He then takes quite a bit of their cocaine and LSD, and sets out in search of the Children, tracking down their supplier of LSD as the next step. He encounters the chemist in the middle of the woods, with a tiger, and after a telepathic exchange learns the location of the abandoned mine that the Children have set up their church in. Red heads there on a stolen demon ATV, and starts the mayhem. He works his way through the cult members, engaging them in ax-combat, sniping them with arrows, and participating in a chainsaw duel before finally working his way into the mine, where Jeremiah is lurking. He finally comes face to face with the cult leader, and brutally murders the man with his bare hands. Red then rides off into the sunrise, his vengeance complete and Mandy’s spirit at rest.
Mandy is a film that needs to be seen to be believed. I can tell you what it’s about, and vaguely describe the whole aesthetic that it’s completely saturated in, but you can’t fully understand the wavelength that Mandy is operating on without actually watching it. And I highly recommend you do, because it’s legitimately one of the most fascinating films I’ve ever seen. It’s ludicrously violent, completely over the top, and filmed with some strange effects that make every single frame of this movie look like a lost album cover you’d find in a used-record store. Johan Johannsson, in one of his final scores, gives us a soundtrack that feels completely at home with the weird Ralph Bakshi-esque vibe that the film descends into, giving us the exact right collection of tunes to groove on while the film goes off the deep end. And, while all of the acting is pretty great across the board, the real star of the show is Nicolas Cage. The man has had a truly bizarre career, and in recent years it can be a complete gamble when you realize that Cage is going to be in a movie. But he brought it in Mandy. Standing in a bathroom wearing tighty-whiteys, tube socks, and a tiger shirt while screaming and chugging vodka, Nicolas Cage knows exactly what movie he’s in, and swings for the fences, cementing the insane world that director Panos Cosmatos has created for us.
I wasn’t familiar with Cosmatos, and it seems like this is only his second film. Which is shocking, because this film screams “blank check.” If you aren’t familiar with the concept, or the wonderful podcast that’s named after the concept, it’s when a director delivers a massively successful film and is then allowed to create whatever insane passion project that they want. They often turn out to be incredibly strange, and something that they’d never have been able to pull off without the clout gained from their initial success. And this film wholeheartedly feels like a blank check in every wonderful way. It’s a truly passionate film, dripping with an incredibly specific aesthetic that seems determined to turn a majority of people away. This doesn’t feel like a film that was released, but one that escaped. This film has no filter. It has no boundaries, and it has nothing keeping it back from being what it wants to be. This film is like the id. It’s sex, anger, destruction, and every other basic instinct, funneled through the lens of the fantastical world of heavy metal. We have an ax-wielding Nicolas Cage fighting a bunch of leather-clad monstrosities and a cult of murderous hippies. It’s amazing. This film isn’t going to work for everyone. In fact, it’s going to work for a very slim amount of people. But those people are going to love it, and appreciate it for the glorious oddity that it really is.
Mandy was written by Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, directed by Panos Cosmatos, and released by RLJE Films, 2018.
Categories: Reel Talk