Say what you will about Nicolas Cage. But when he takes a role, he’s all in.
Some call him an incredibly committed actor. Some call him an actor who looks, in some of his roles, as if he should be committed. I’ve seen him in great movies. I’ve seen him in terrible movies, I’ve even seen him in terrible Christian movies. But this just might be Cage at his undiluted, unhinged best in what I think might be the year’s craziest film.
The movie’s called Mandy. Most critics love it: It’s at 98-percent “freshness” on Rotten Tomatoes.
This marks the first time that I’ve ever been lumped in with the two percent.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate much of what Mandy has to offer. Director Panos Cosmatos saturates the screen in deep, rich, Easter-egg colors: Electric blue and eggplant purple and Pepto-Bismol pink, all ultimately giving way to sticky, tomato-skin red. The whole thing feels incredibly audacious—a cinematic jambalaya that’s part slasher flick, part fever dream, part mythological construct. It’s the sort of movie that Terry Gilliam’s crazy twin brother might make. And Cage’s performance, along with that of Andrea Riseborough, is unforgettable.
But in a way, I wish I could. I didn’t review this film for Plugged In, but if I did, I’d be pointing out the graphic nudity and ridiculous drug use and the messy, laughably grotesque violence. Mandy makes Scarface look like an E.M. Forster flick.
The story, such as it is, is fairly simple. Red Miller (Cage, and also the name of a one-time Denver Broncos head coach) and Mandy (Riseborough) live in a cabin deep in the “Shadow Mountains,” circa 1983. She reads and wears metal-band T-shirts; he fishes and tells terrible knock-knock jokes. (“Knock-knock.” “Who’s there?” “Erik Estrada.” “Erik Estrada who?” “Erik Estrada from CHIPS.”)
Alas, their idyllic paradise is shattered when the leader of a demented cult takes a shine to Mandy. In an effort to bring her into the fold, the cult conjures up some rabid, ATV-riding, possibly demonic henchmen who kidnap Mandy and tie up Red in barbed wire.
But just as Mandy slathers on the blood, it wallows in just tons of spiritual content, which lends the film a certain almost primal, Medieval feel. To tackle that, we’ll need to get into some a few mid-grade spoilers. So read on at your peril.