Anyone who had seen Panos Cosmatos' ‘Beyond the Black Rainbow’ would have known to expect ‘Mandy’s primary colours and filters, stifling and measured immersive mood and hallucinogenic vibe. ‘Rainbow’ (2010) was faux-80s before that was even a trend, convincingly capturing the spirit of trippy 80s straight-to-video cult favourites, and – if judging from social media reactions – Cosmatos has certainly made an instant genre classic with the revenge excess of ‘Mandy’. Of course, he has Nicolas Cage to boast of here and Cage’s participation for sure means this will immediately have crossover appeal, reaching many that would not otherwise have known they would enjoy such an exploitation homage seemingly wrapped up in candyfloss, just as it’s being melted.
It starts off mellow enough with that just-coming-from-the-hippy-Seventies vibe that coloured early 80s genre. Red (Cage) is living an idealised away-from-corrupt-civilisation life with his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in a nice secluded house in the horror trees and a Timotei commercial. Even here, the rooms of the house seem to change and swim alive with colour and shadow changes. Then, as Mandy is asserting her feminine freedom with a roadside walk, she catches the eye of a deranged cult leader passing by in a van and disaster is then sure to happen. The cult pay the dreamy couple a deranged visit that intends to leave both of them dead. But Red survives and then embarks to a rampage of vengeance that incorporates porn, chainsaws and (alien? demon?) bondage bikers.
Those who come for the “Nicolas Cage: he so nuts!” will not be disappointed; not least of all when he goes bonkers in a bathroom that looks like a set from Anna Biller’s ‘The Love Witch’. But it’s Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sand who surely takes the biscuit and initially muddies the waters between outrageous hamming and fearless acting. The men gleefully overact and the women look beatific and dreamy. There’s certainly a theme of machismo and ego in here beneath the filters: Sands’ homicidal rage is triggered by having his power, supremacy and sexuality laughed at; there’s a spike-penis; oh look, his chainsaw is bigger than Red’s chainsaw (but it’s all down to how you use it); and, of course, all that pink and red. It’s a ridiculous parody of male potency in action films.
There perhaps seems a little calculation in the clunky dialogue seemingly deliberately aimed to trigger laughter (“That was my favourite shirt!”; “You’re a vicious… snowflake.”) or seemingly fanboy-pleasing moments like a chainsaw duel, but there is so much genuine oddity on display that it’s easy to just enjoy the excess. It’s certainly a riot. Also, the craziness dials up after Red’s escape, so that there could be a reading that this is all just the revenge dream of a dying man (the stab in the ribs is totally forgotten); but the trippiness and lunacy has long been established beforehand and seems to refute this. Each shot is designed to add to this otherworldliness, no matter if the scene is pretty scenery or chainsaw battles. And yet it’s all filtered through a melancholia that both grounds and accentuates the outrageousness.
…And then Red is doing a spot of ironmongering, making an axe that looks like a ‘Flash Gordon’ prop. Well, of course.
It’s a somewhat tired trope now, but the 80s aesthetic is thoroughly convincing from the hammy dialogue and the question of how generous should you be to the acting, to the intertitles coming in type of fonts that used to grace the covers of bargain bin horror paperbacks; and every now and again, there are animated dreams, sci-fi interludes, a quick vision of cars buried in a wasteland like a detour from ‘Mad Max’, or a melting face (a nod to a excised effect from ‘Rainbow’?). And of course, with ‘Beyond the Black Rainbow’ Cosmatos can be said to have been doing this throwback agenda in earnest earlier than others, but the narrative and novelties of ‘Mandy’ will probably prove more accessible for those that found ‘Rainbow’ too thin and slow.
Some films excel on aesthetic alone – Argento’s ‘Suspiria’ immediately comes to mind – and Cosmatos delivers such a heady phantasmagoria of homicidal hippydom and Heavy Metal revenge fantasy that a viewer can just sit back to be happily submerged. Benjamin Loeb’s cinematography and the editing by Brett W. Bachman and Paul Painter are joys in themselves, creating an overwhelming mood that seems at odds with the straightforward revenge narrative. Oh, and the soundtrack by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson is a treat, all retro-synths and prog-rock thickening the mood. Rarely does this kind of story get this kind of lavish visual treatment and that’s at the root of it’s fascinating kaleidoscopic appeal. It’s a riot in all kinds of ways.