*. Well, this certainly is some fucked-up shit. Maybe a bit too much so. I applaud its free-wheeling spirit but would it have helped to dial things back a bit?
*. I’m not sure. Parts of it try too hard. The crazy visuals and fantasy elements overwhelm, and are maybe meant to overwhelm, what seems to be a pretty pedestrian rape-revenge story. A gang of “Jesus freaks” (I wonder why they felt the need to rope Jesus into this) attack a couple in their remote cabin, killing Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and leaving Red (Nicolas Cage) to take his revenge.
*. We’ve certainly been down this road many times before. But then things get trippy. The cult are apparently in touch with demonic forces that take the form of a trio of giant lizard-men on ATVs. They look a bit like the Cenobites from Hellraiser but they’re nowhere near as interesting because they don’t seem capable of saying much aside from growling about blood and burning and death. Still, I wasn’t expecting them to put in an appearance and they helped spice things up a bit.
*. In fact, they may be less modeled on the Cenobites than on some heavy metal rockers from the ’80s. Which would make sense since the film is set in the year 1983 A.D. (they really add the Anno Domini). And to be sure many viewers have identified the metal trappings of the story. Red looks like a typical headbanger of the period, and his specially forged axe might as well be a guitar slung across his back. It’s also true that metal in the ’80s had a thing for this kind of fantasy mythologizing that would make it a good fit with the story.
*. Why then is there not more metal music? Something like the soundtrack for Heavy Metal (1981 A.D.)? Instead we get King Crimson, a ’70s prog rock outfit that I don’t consider to be a metal band at all, and another song written for the film that’s basically psychedelia. Sure the Children of the New Dawn are a latter-day Manson cult, but should they still be writing Manson-era music in 1983? Mandy wears a Black Sabbath t-shirt, so let’s hear some Sabbath!
*. As an aside, I have to wonder why Manson’s gang became so fascinating to filmmakers around this time. Manson’s Lost Girls and Wolves at the Door (both 2016), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Haunting of Sharon Tate (both 2019). What gives? The backlash against hippies is usually traced back to the 1980s, which is when I thought it ran its course. So why is it being dredged up again now? There weren’t any hippies in the ’80s. At least that you’d notice.
*. Returning to the story, as Red pursues his vengeance things become increasingly strange. I won’t try to explain it because I’m still not sure what was really going on. Maybe aliens were involved. Maybe Red was dreaming the whole thing. I don’t know. But Cage makes a great avenger, wired on demon drugs and masked in blood as he duels bad guys with chainsaws and lights cigarettes off of burning decapitated heads. Yeah, he’s bad.
*. And I could get on board with all of this. But I have two really big caveats I have to register.
*. In the first place, I thought the story really dragged in several places. I mentioned being disappointed that the demon bikers don’t talk more, but given the speeches the loquacious bad guys like Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and the Chemist (a nice turn by Richard Brake) make, that’s probably a good thing. Once these guys start talking it becomes clear right away that they have nothing at all to say but they keep talking anyway for what seems like a really long time.
*. All-in-all I have to say this is a lousy script. After a while I started thinking they might have been better off doing without it and just playing some music and letting the action speak for itself. Because nothing that anyone says really means anything. “They wronged you,” the Chemist opines, unhelpfully. “Why’d they have to go do that?”
*. The other criticism I would level at Mandy may be more the result of my getting old. A lot of this movie made me think of the t-shirts worn at metal concerts in the ’80s that told everybody “If it’s too loud, you’re too fuckin’ old!” But not only did I have trouble hearing a lot of the (worthless) dialogue (I usually watch a movie with subtitles anyway), I also couldn’t see much of what was going on. Not only are scenes filmed in very dark coloured filters, for no good reason at all, but the images are blurry as well. You’ll have to strain your eyes just to make out a lot of the gore.
*. Don’t get me wrong. I liked a lot of the creative visuals that director Panos Cosmatos indulges here. But the movie looks so muddy a lot of them didn’t really register. And if you’re being weird all the time then weirdness itself loses its bite after a while.
*. So it’s halfway to being a great cult movie, of the kind you don’t see a lot of anymore. Plus it’s got Nicolas Cage losing his shit because somebody ripped his shirt. However, it’s also at least twenty minutes too long, has a throwaway script, is hard to see or hear, and barely got me interested in its atavistic plot (you kill my woman, I crush your head). I’m glad we have it, and have no hesitation recommending it to others, but I doubt I’ll be seeing it again for a while.