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.

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