Mandy Is The Best Movie Of 2018

And You’ve Probably Never Heard of it…

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If David Lynch, John Carpenter and the band YES had an orgy while on acid, their baby would be this movie. That may not sound like a combination that adds up to what I consider to be the best movie of 2018, but I assure you it does. I left the theater thinking, “Holy fuck that was the most perfect film I have ever seen” and I continue to stand behind this statement. Mandy was written and directed by Pantos Cosmatos and I will forever consider him to be a genius.

At the time of my viewing, Mandy was playing in only two theaters in New York City. I know so few people who have even heard of this movie and even fewer who have had the opportunity to see it and that’s an absolute shame. I didn’t see this movie because of any press, in fact I saw NONE, I went because I passed a poster for it at the theater I would later visit. And given the unfortunate small release, it is an absolute miracle of happenstance that I even encountered the thing. The amorphous images and colors, styling that evoked an epic apocalyptic fantasy, Nic Cage’s brooding face… I wanted all of it, whatever “it” turned out to be. The poster was intriguing enough that I bought my ticket without even researching the plot.

The first thing that struck me was the sound — my God THE SOUND. The soundtrack contains a smattering of progressive rock, including an opening song by King Crimson, but also relies heavily on a deep, ambient score that I liken to the sound of a dark fantasy movie from the 80s interlaced with black-metal guitar riffs. It's the kind of sound that hits you in the throat and rumbles all the way down into your gut; a sound that conveys emotion and power all on its own. The audio design married perfectly with the visuals, carrying me right into the film as if I was experiencing each character journey for myself.

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Getting back to that vintage 80s feel, Mandy is set in 1983 so the styling is not just a novelty effect, it has purpose. Mandy is a love story, a revenge story, an assault on the heart and senses. Nic Cage’s character, Red, is in love with Andrea Riseborough’s character, Mandy. They live deep within forested hills; she is an illustrator of fantasy scenes and he is a woodsman. Walking alone on the road one day, Mandy catches the eye of a cult leader passing by in a van filled with his small group of followers. He demands she be brought to him and the cult uses some dark magic to call upon hell-born biker demons with a taste for LSD to do the job of obtaining her. Things don’t go exactly to plan — Mandy is an insolent captive and the cult leader decides to kill her instead of love her, later burning her alive in front of Red. Of course Red loses his shit and swears revenge; from there we are led on a psychedelic gorefest through beautiful landscapes and wild circumstances.

Love him or hate him, Nicolas Cage makes some bold film choices, and every once in a while he hits on one that is the perfect vehicle for his unique brand of power, humor, quirk and mystery — Mandy is one of those instances. Yes I can imagine other actors filling this role, but there was just something so “Nic Cage” about the character and film, that it would have been a disservice to the material to cast anyone else. There’s a scene shortly following Mandy’s murder, where he is bloody, battered, heartbroken and pissed, standing in the most garishly decorated 80s bathroom, dressed in tighty whities and a tiger shirt, chugging hard liquor right from the bottle and screaming his pain, and it’s just like, oh yeah, THIS IS NICOLAS CAGE. No one else could have done that scene like he did that scene and I loved every second of it.

Andrea Riseborough is equally and perfectly cast. She is a pure, barefaced, eyelash-less beauty and her looks play seamlessly into her character and the effect she has on the cult leader. OF COURSE her big eyes, blank stare, long hair and metal-band tees captivate his crazy heart, and OF COURSE she defies him in the most brazen, no-fucks-given way. There is incredible power in her presence, even in silence; her unadorned allure absolutely mesmerizing as she glides through scenes of sadness, love, capture, torture. Seeing her in this movie makes me want to watch everything else in which she stars.

She and Cage are so well-matched, their union so logical, that as a viewer their affection and devotion is completely understood even with the most minimal of scenes in which they are actually together. I viscerally felt the pain of her death and the satisfying relief of vengeance.

After bloody battles, acid-drenched encounters, an epic chainsaw battle and inevitable resolution, we see Red weary but victorious. In the end Red drives away, blood-covered, tripping on LSD, wide-eyed and stricken. Rambling down a dark road, lit cigarette in his mouth, he turns to the passenger side where he sees a calm, satisfied vision of his true love, the journey now complete.

As the credits rolled, I sat still in my seat, absolutely floored by what I had just seen. Never before have I experienced such a wholly perfect blend of cinematography, story, acting, sound and art direction. I was moved, I laughed, I felt like I was tripping, I felt complete. Please PLEASE watch this movie.

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Some other 2018 movies I reviewed…

Brianne McGuire