In Mandy, Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller, a lumberjack who goes away for stretches of work then comes home to his remote house in the woods with his partner, the titular Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Mandy is an artist who seems to work from home and enjoys their secluded lifestyle while Red is starting to feel uneasy about their solitude.
Turns out his uneasiness is well founded when a psychedelic (and perhaps slightly supernatural) cult arrives at their home to take Mandy into their sect. Linus Roache plays the group’s unsettling leader, Jeremiah Sand. Though his brand of cult leader is fairly typical — a new age hippy type who plays folk songs about himself and controls his sect sexually — he’s successfully ominous and creepy, and plays well against Cage’s vengeful Red.
The most accurate description I’ve heard of this film is that it plays like a live-action airbrushed van or a heavy metal album cover. Featuring imagery like animated sequences of bleeding tigers and naked women, over saturated skies and oppressive religious architecture, describing this as a grotesque psychedelic grindhouse flick seems as apt as anything.
After my first viewing of Mandy I left the theatre unsure if I really loved it or if I was just spellbound by the look of the film and Nicolas Cage’s performance. Upon second viewing, I wonder if the visual spell the film casts is by design. Certainly the look parallels the effects of the LSD the cult uses on its followers, but it also feels like the filmmaker wants to distract the audience from thinking too critically about what’s happening. He doesn’t want you to wonder if the film would have been better if the titular Mandy had been more than just a catalyst for a series of chainsaw and axe fights. He’d prefer you don’t think too much about the cult and its view of women. In fact, he’d rather you don’t think too much about the plot at all.
The film might be thin on plot, but it makes up for it in other areas. The relationship between Mandy and Red is the best bit. Though we only get a few minutes with Mandy and Red together before all goes horribly wrong, these are quality moments that carry the viewer through the film. Cage and Riseborough believably connect, particularly through a conversation their characters have in bed about their favourite planets. Red appears interested in everything Mandy says, and even a scene where the couple watch TV while eating dinner together on the couch quickly solidifies them as a caring partnership. And when they’re torn apart by the cult’s minions (a bunch of big bads that look like Cenobite bikers), it hurts to watch them look into each others eyes with longing and dread.
Most critics have praised the film for Cage and the opportunities the movie gives him to “Cage out” (such as a bathroom scene where he screams and pours alcohol all over himself), but for me it’s these smaller moments that make him, and his performance, stand out.
This is why Cage is a promising horror actor. He has the capacity to rage and play up a chainsaw fight (or a Sawzall in Mom & Dad), but his grief is where he really shows his range. He has equal capacity for the broad screaming reactions we get in the aforementioned bathroom scene, but also the honest anguished sobs as he tries to explain the brutality visited on Mandy to a friend. He can rile us up and break our hearts, and I hope this is only the beginning.