By: Ben Cohen
Mandy (2018) is an unforgettable orgy of laughter and gore. In it, Italian-Canadian director Panos Cosmatos flings an apoplectic Nicholas Cage into a psychedelic 80s arthouse body horror setting and has him shred his way out with a battle axe. Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto was the perfect vehicle to deliver this emerging cult titan, with its cozy, inclusive atmosphere, retro vibe and giddy, invested audience.
The first act sees the Children of the New Dawn, a cult of “hippy Jesus freaks,” as Cage’s character, Red Miller, describes them, take an interest in his wife, the titular Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). This section of the movie is marked by headache-inducing lighting that oscillates between the exact red and blue from old-school 3D glasses. After some strobe effects, bizarre, yet disarming dialogue and cinematographically taboo centred shots, the audience’s brains are now mushy enough to embark on the fever-dream rollercoaster that is Mandy.
The rest of the film exists in the twilight state of predictability. The story beats are simple to suss out. It’s murder-revenge plot. Watching it, there’s no doubt you’ll see everyone who wronged Miller get brutalized by him. The journey to that point is something else though. Each scene one-ups the last in terms of outrageous, unflinching violence and unbelievable lines that seem to be written and delivered by hilarious, deadpan aliens. For example:
Erik Estrada who?
Erik Estrada from CHiPs.
It’s impossible to do that - or any of the other hysterically weird dialogue - justice through text, but seeing Cage transmute this and other nonsense in the script into gold is a transcendent, alchemical experience that stays with you.
Mandy’s sound design and score fit the film perfectly. Prog rock, ambient synth waves and ominous organ riffs thread the picture, accentuating all the wild gore and gross-out scenes. Liquid LSD sizzles unpleasantly as it drops into an open eye. Chainsaws ricochet off each other with satisfying buzzes and clangs. Eyeballs burst out of a head with a nasty pop. Every visual horror on screen comes packaged with a deserving auditory enhancement.
Unfortunately, Revue Cinema wasn’t able to make good on its promise of providing theatre-goers with mac and cheese to accompany a now iconic Mandy scene featuring that same snack. Revue ran out of mac sometime before the show started, so CanCulture was unable to weigh in on it.
The scene in question, however, was a treat enough. Miller returns home severely wounded and grieving, only to be greeted by an out-of-this-world ad for instant mac on TV. The brand’s mascot, the Cheddar Goblin, is seen vomiting mac and cheese all over giggling children at a table before declaring his product to be “goblin’ good!” It’s this kind of insane non-sequitur that sets Mandy apart from most other projects committed to film and likens it more to absurdist, weird-side-of-YouTube humour.
Characters are sparse and predominantly backstory-free in Mandy, but quality all the same. You’ll never guess what’s about to fall out of anyone’s mouth at any given time, but you’ll never be disappointed with what you hear. The most consistent and fully formed of the lot is cult-leader and failed folk-rocker Jerimiah Sand (Linus Roache). Sand exhibits the righteous anger and sexual entitlement of an online incel. At one point he exposes himself, without consent, to Mandy and then flies into a violent rage when she rejects him. Sand believes he deserves anything he desires and can’t reconcile with any denial. Whether this is an intentional ape of this new and hideous internet presence or not, it still serves as a spot-on reminder of the real-life monsters we can come into contact with any day.
In summation, Mandy is an exceedingly fresh, entertaining experience that will boggle your mind and short-circuit your eyeballs. It elicits more laughs than most straight-up comedies and more chills and shocks than a good chunk of horror movies from any age.
Revue Cinema, similarly, is a gem of a venue that put considerable thought and effort into providing the ideal viewing experience for the film. It even created its own playlist of retro-horror film previews right before the screening, featuring the original trailers for 80s horror classics from the likes of John Carpenter and George Romero, which, needless to say, was a ton of fun and set the tone just right.