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Nicolas Cage is crazy good in stellar phantasmagoric thriller ‘Mandy’ (review)

September 20, 2018

Nicolas Cage is crazy good in stellar phantasmagoric thriller ‘Mandy’ (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Nicolas Cage has gone berserk so many times on the screen that it has become the caricatured rage of some contorted maniac. Whoop, there he goes again. Someone call for help.

After seeing “Mandy,” I realized that maybe the problem isn’t Cage’s after all. The phantasmagoric film by Panos Cosmatos is the perfect vehicle for the rage and the whole crazy thing.

Set in 1983 in a bucolic but dark forest in the Pacific Northwest, it tells the story of a loving couple – a logger Red Miller (Cage) and his girlfriend Many Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), who works as a cashier at a remote gas station.

They live in a cabin by a lake, far from society. But, of course, there’s something lurking under the surface. You can feel it from the deep-hued, moody cinematography, which recalls some of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s most contemplative films.

In their bed one night, Mandy recalls childhood traumas while Red plays the role of the reassuring protector. He’s also a joke-telling goof, telling a bad knock-knock joke that would make even a child wince before giggling.

Ah, but there is darkness in these woods – in the form of a weird cult led by a twisted leader (Linus Roache) who looks like some burned-out metal-head. One day, he catches a glimpse of Mandy as she walks past the cult’s van, which looks like something they swiped from “Scooby Doo.”

He’s no Shaggy and this is no Mystery Machine. It’s a vehicle for mayhem and once the cult leader becomes smitten with her it’s a matter of time before the van and a band of crazed, drug-crazed bikers return to abduct his object of desire.

“Mandy” is a film about abduction and domination. It’s also one of cinema’s darkest forays into obsession in recent memory – both the cult leader’s and Red’s berserk rampage to mete out revenge.

Riseborough is deft at playing the stoic rebel, able to withstand the most perverse violations. But this is Cage’s show and he takes it to an extreme he hasn’t explored so well and with such maniacal intensity since his 2009 collaboration with Werner Herzog in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.”

At first, his transformation from harmless regular guy to vengeful savage is reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman in Sam Peckipah’s 1971 classic “Straw Dogs.” But Cage takes it – no surprise – much further.

Much, much further – into a primal screaming madness that is backed by a doom opera soundtrack loaded with bone-crushing heavy metal. The rage and the rampage that makes you realize how much deep physical and psychological weight Cage has to offer when he’s unleashed with a script that has his back.

Initially released by a tiny independent distributor to little fanfare, “Mandy” has seemingly come out of nowhere to not only remind us of what Cage is capable of but also to rekindle an approach to film that was left for dead somewhere on the 1970s midnight movie circuit.

This, you see, is a horror show with buckets of blood. But it also beats heavy with an art-house heart – where love and insanity and violence mix and mingle to create one of the year’s most striking films.

REVIEW

Mandy

Who: Directed by Panos Cosmatos . Written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn. Stars Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré.

Rated: Not rated.

Running Time: 121 minutes.

Where: Cedar-Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights.

When: Opens Friday.

Grade: A.

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