DIRECTOR Panos Cosmatos
CAST Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke
PLOT USA, 1983. Logger Red Miller (Cage) lives in the woods with his girlfriend Mandy (Riseborough). When an itinerant cult attacks them with the help of a trio of demonic bikers, Red goes on a crazed quest for revenge. IF YOU’VE BEEN waiting all your life to watch Nicolas Cage set a man on fire, then decapitate him, then light a cigarette using his still-burning severed head, then good news, folks — your ship has come into port, and then some.
How to describe Mandy? Imagine a live-action version of the cover art from a band that sang about dragons, Vikings and both Sodom and Gomorrah, set to a score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, that’s half the hardest basslines you’ll find outside a Berlin basement club and half atmospherics that would give Beelzebub himself the willies.
Director Panos Cosmatos has created one of the most distinctive films in years, helped along by stunning work from cinematographer Benjamin Loeb and a trio of lead performances from Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache that all somehow ground the headiness in something resembling human emotion.
In recent years, it’s almost as if Cage has tossed a coin before every shoot to decide if he should be sleepily unengaged or play a character deep into a psychotic episode, regardless of the script. His mutation into a human/gif hybrid based on his more flamboyant performances, however, can make people forget just what a gifted performer he is.
He’s fairly restrained here, clearly aware the material is so extravagant it doesn’t need much of his special sauce — aside from an extended single take where he alternates howling in anguish and chugging a whole bottle of vodka while wearing only Y fronts and a tiger-printed T-shirt. It only works because Cage commits fully, daring you to find him ridiculous. Like Sideshow Bob with those rakes, it starts out sad, gets silly, then somehow doubly sad — it’s an extraordinary piece of work.
Otherwise, Cage is content to let his latent crazy-eye syndrome do the work, a subtlety that keeps the truly mad stuff he gets up to — like, say, a chainsaw duel, or forging his own six-foot vengeance scythe, or taking about a gallon of arterial spray in the mouth — on the right side of absurdity.
What does all the style and surrealism add up to? Not much, to be honest. Once he’s into his increasingly bloody spree, the film seems to forget about Mandy, and deep character work isn’t exactly the order of the day — but what style and what surrealism. The sedate pacing, uncompromisingly hallucinogenic atmosphere and general air of devil-maycare ruthlessness won’t be for everyone, but there are more memorable images here than some directors manage in whole careers.
VERDICT You already know if you’ll enjoy a film where Lsd-crazed leather daddies are summoned via something called the Horn Of Abraxas. A no-holdsbarred ride into madness destined for a thousand midnight screenings.
Nicolas Cage, bloodied, but as ever, utterly unbowed.