Mandy is a Reagan-era macho-paranoid-grindhouse-movie, although now with a postmodern fog of irony and nostalgia so thick that the film virtually defies any kind of interpretation. It's a psychosexual revenge fantasy without any trace of political or philosophical meaning. If I were to go into a dissection of the film's commentary about pantheism versus organised religion or the phallic symbolism and homoerotic subtext to its skull-crushing climax it would be wasted print, because this film doesn't care to be analysed, it is doing these things because they are recognisable tropes of the revenge movie, not because it means to say anything through them. If you like this movie, I’m not judging, I love Drive and that’s doing something very similar, I’m just pointing it out.
The film stars Nicolas Cage as a Nicolas Cage character (I think this one was called Red) whose wife Mandy is abducted and killed by a psychedelic, occultist hippie commune whom he then proceeds to hunt down and kill one by one. It’s ‘Heavy-Metal-Album-Cover-the-Movie’ basically, he even forges his own special Viking war axe before setting off on his quest for vengeance.
One of the biggest problems with the film is how slow it is, Cage is barely in the first half and it’s more than an hour before the film really gets going at all. The first half is shot almost entirely in headache-inducing pink lighting and is more boring than anything else, Red and Mandy share bland pseudo-profound but ultimately meaningless exchanges about the solar system and their dreams that I think are this movie’s idea of character development. The first half also sets up the cult who are more annoying than sinister, everyone is competing over who can give the most uncomfortable line reading and you really just want the camera to stop focusing on their gurning expressions and hissing deliveries.
Once the film kicks into gear in the last third it actually becomes kind of fun, for once the rest of a Nicolas Cage movie feels like it’s on the same wavelength as him and we get scenes where he takes LSD, fights people with chainsaws, breaks their necks for ripping his shirt and lights cigarettes of the flaming head of a biker he just decapitated. Writer/director Panos Cosmatos clearly has more of a way with images than words and by almost cutting the dialogue completely in the final third works greatly to the film’s benefit, there were a few striking visuals worth committing to memory, even if not worth serious analysis. I probably would have enjoyed this film more if it had embraced that side of itself sooner and crucially, hadn't weighted down its first half with a needlessly dark, bleak and tortuous setup. When these scenes are motivated by the grief of this intensity they just aren't fun.
This film was directed by Panos Cosmatos, whose father was the director George Pan Cosmatos, and if you want a much better way to spend an evening track down a copy of the elder Cosmatos’s 1973 film Massacre in Rome. It’s one of the most overlooked masterpieces of the 1970s and is much worthier of your time and money than this.