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In Theaters/On VOD: MANDY (2018)

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MANDY 
(US/UK/Belgium - 2018)

Directed by Panos Cosmatos. Written by Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Lane Pillet, Clement Baronnet, Alexis Julemont, Stephan Fraser. (Unrated, 121 mins)

It's been six years since Panos Cosmatos' debut feature, the instant cult classic BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, a surreal mindfuck of a waking nightmare that felt like Stanley Kubrick, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Andrei Tarkovsky secretly collaborated on a sci-fi film that aired once at 3:30 am on Civic TV in an alternate universe 1983 and no one who watched it lived to tell about it. My reaction to BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW was intense. It haunted me for days, even weeks after watching it. I kept going back to it, drawn to it. It still has this weird hold on me, like it was made for me. As bizarre as it sounds, I had an almost dizzying sense of deja vu the first time watching it--not in the sense that it reminded me of other movies, but rather, that I dreamt some of its striking imagery before. Cosmatos, the son of the late journeyman director George P. Cosmatos (THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, COBRA, TOMBSTONE), said that his inspiration for BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW came from browsing the horror sections of video stores as a kid and imagining how the movies--which his dad wouldn't let him watch at that point--would look based simply on the cover box art. BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW was met with significant acclaim, but even those who weren't captivated by it still generally conceded that Cosmatos was a promising filmmaker worth watching.







And then, his cult fan base waited. And waited. Six long years later (eight if you consider that BLACK RAINBOW was shot in 2010 but unreleased until 2012), Cosmatos has finally returned with the eagerly-anticipated MANDY. The hype has been building since it was screened at Sundance to almost unanimous accolades in January 2018. It also gives Cosmatos a chance to work with a name actor, in this case the one and only Nicolas Cage, in one of his periodic excursions into real filmmaking where he actually gives a shit and shows he's still got an A-game if the situation is warranted. If there's any concern that Cage's presence is making Cosmatos go mainstream, then let's dispel it here and now. If anything, MANDY--the title doesn't even appear onscreen until 75 minutes in--is somehow even more impenetrable than BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, even once it settles into a somewhat conventional, revenge saga groove in its second half. MANDY has notions of duality running throughout, from the way two of its main characters strongly resemble one another to the film being more or less split into two distinct halves that last roughly an hour each. Though he appears throughout, Cage is largely relegated to the sideline through much of MANDY's more defiantly audacious first hour. Like BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, it's set in 1983, but in the "Shadow Mountains" of a surrealistic, otherworldly, drenched-in-red Pacific Northwest, opening to the haunting strains of King Crimson's "Starless" as lumberjack Red Miller (Cage) lives a quiet life with his bookish, heavy-metal loving artist girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Mandy catches the eye of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a failed, one-and-done 1970s folk rocker-turned-hippie cult leader, who commands his Children of the New Dawn disciples to bring her to him. This involves conjuring the Black Skulls, a gang of LSD-addled demon bikers who appear in Red's house in a sequence that plays out as an episode of sleep paralysis and take Mandy away. As Jeremiah and his acolytes attempt to brainwash Mandy, things take a horrific turn. Red is left for dead and, after picking up some weapons from his buddy Caruthers (always a treat to see the great Bill Duke), goes on a nonstop, visceral, insanely bloody rampage of vengeance against the Black Skulls and Sand's cult. And yes...this leads to a chainsaw fight that takes its rightful place alongside standard-bearers like DARK OF THE SUN and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2.





MANDY may eventually have the plot of a standard revenge saga, but it never plays like one, instead opting for THE EXTERMINATOR rebooted in some distant, drug-soaked netherworld. Red and Mandy are real people in a Pacific Northwest as otherworldly stylized as the settings of the fantasy and horror paperbacks that Mandy reads so voraciously. Where BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW was born of a young Panos Cosmatos' imagination of what horror movies he couldn't see might look like, MANDY feels like it comes from deep inside the artwork of '70s and '80s album covers. Indeed, imagery and sounds (this gets a lot from SICARIO and ARRIVAL composer Johann Johannsson, who died last February; this was his final work) accompany events that could almost be the story behind a shelved concept album conceived in 1983 by a secret supergroup comprised of members of Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, Pentagram, Venom, and the 1970s incarnation of King Crimson. The world of MANDY looks like it was designed by Roger Dean and Storm Thorgerson while in the throes of demonic possession. If BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW was a waking nightmare, MANDY is tripping balls in Hell. It's Cage's best work in years, even with an extremely Cage-esque bathroom freakout in tighty-whiteys that's certain to make his YouTube highlight reel. This is a bold, daring film that's like nothing else you're going to see in 2018, but having said that, its hold on me wasn't quite as strong as BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW's Its pace is much more languid and even glacial in the first hour, and at 121 minutes, it runs a little long and has a few tedious stretches. It's also worth mentioning that there are moments in this that seem a little reminiscent of what Rob Zombie was trying to do with his ambitious 2013 misfire THE LORDS OF SALEM. Still, all things considered, in a world where "cult classic" is now synonymous with Tommy Wiseau or SHARKNADO, Panos Cosmatos is the real deal, and he's making midnight movies that will stand the test of time. Given its limited multiplex appeal, MANDY is premiering on VOD with only a small theatrical rollout. I watched it on VOD, but I'm planning on making a trip out of town to see it in a theater in the coming days. It's probably the best way to experience the immersive intent of Cosmatos' vision.




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