Mandy direc­tor brings it all back home to B.C.

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY ADRIAN MACK

Since its de­but at Cannes ear­lier this year, the ul­tra­vi­o­lent, hal­lu­ci­na­tory re­venge flick Mandy has emerged, re­mark­ably, as one of the best-re­ceived films of 2018. Per­haps even more re­mark­ably, this un­for­get­table mas­ter­piece of blood, fire, and de­mented vi­sion—open­ing Fri­day (Septem­ber 14)—all be­gan with a trip to Vic­to­ria’s Jaycee Fair when film­maker Panos Cos­matos was nine years old.

“I went to a stall to buy a ZZ Top Vel­cro wal­let, and the woman be­hind the stand was a sort of met­al­head wear­ing wire-rimmed glasses,” Cos­matos re­calls, call­ing the Ge­or­gia Straight from Mon­treal. “And in a child­ish way I in­stantly fell in love with her.”

He was so stricken that he handed over his money and then walked away mi­nus the wal­let, and that, says the Van­cou­ver-based direc­tor, “was the very core ges­ta­tion of Mandy”. It’s also a fa­mil­iar cre­ative strat­egy for Cos­matos, whose 2010 de­but, Be­yond the Black Rain­bow, was a sim­i­lar trans­mu­ta­tion of pop-cul­tural fix­a­tions, emo­tional mem­ory, and deeply felt life ex­pe­ri­ence. The re­sult was like a vi­o­lent sci-fi ver­sion of Proust fi­nanced by Can­non Films. It re­mains ut­terly unique.

“Just mak­ing Black Rain­bow was like my min­i­mum re­quire­ment be­fore death, so that I could die with some hon­our and not in to­tal shame,” of­fers Cos­matos, rather dis­arm­ingly, given that the renown he earned al­lowed him to cast Mandy with An­drea Rise­bor­ough as the met­al­head in wire-rim glasses and Nic Cage as the man who’ll lit­er­ally ad­vance from one im­pos­si­ble di­men­sion to the next to avenge her death.

His leads both step up with thrillingly com­mit­ted per­for­mances. As does Li­nus Roache as psy­chotic re­li­gious-cult leader Jeremiah Sand, whose in­flu­ence ex­tends to a mur­der-hun­gry quar­tet of “trans­di­men­sion­ally aware” mu­tants called the Black Skulls. Cos­matos calls them “Pa­cific North­west acid demons”, and again, it’s the film­maker’s own back­yard that’s been re­lo­cated to Mandy’s fic­tional Shadow Moun­tains, a just-left-of-fa­mil­iar land­scape of moss and pine through which Cage’s Red Miller pur­sues Sand and his acolytes.

Muses Cos­matos: “In the night there’s some­times a sort of cursed qual­ity to the Pa­cific North­west. In my mind the Shadow Moun­tains is some weird pocket of Cas­ca­dia.”

Mandy also scales up the very strange and sub­tle hu­mour we en­counter in Rain­bow, and Cage, in par­tic­u­lar, is given a cou­ple of mo­ments that land in the more re­mote re­gions of the ab­surd. Cos­matos hap­pily pro­fesses his love of low­brow com­edy, but the comic voic­ing here is nowhere near the throw­away splat-stick of ’80s hor­ror.

“At one point in my life,” he says, “what I wanted was to be Sam Raimi and just make Evil Dead over and over again, and I think there’s a lit­tle bit of Ash in Red. But at the same time, I wanted to take a char­ac­ter like that and re­ally milk the max­i­mum op­er­atic suf­fer­ing and emo­tion out of him, and make it feel tan­gi­ble and be­liev­able to some de­gree.”

Reach­ing once more into his in­ti­mately per­sonal mythog­ra­phy, where the tacky be­comes tal­is­manic, and the gaudy is im­bued with deep mean­ing, Cos­matos re­calls visit­ing a Mex­i­can mar­ket in 1981 and find­ing “all these boot­leg ver­sions of Amer­i­can toys, like a Stormtrooper that looked com­pletely wrong, but in some way was com­pelling and fas­ci­nat­ing in its own right. I want my films to have that kind of feel­ing to them. That they’re a sort of de­formed Stormtrooper ac­tion fig­ure of a movie.”

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