Since its debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Mandy has been sold as what looks like Taken if it was told through the style of an 80's Dungeons and Dragons campaign, with artwork by Frank Frazetta. To a certain extent, the film does indeed embody that ethos, as its visually stunning, deliberately paced story does linger on those last two influences, with the former only really kicking in towards the end of the film. So while Mandy isn't exactly the Nic Cage revenge flick it's making itself out to be, it's certainly a unique and entertaining dive into the trippy and the brutal.
Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live an idyllic existence in the Pacific Northwest, or as idyllic as 1983 can allow. That soon ends after an enigmatic cult leader (Linus Roache) requests Mandy be brought to him, by any means necessary. If only he'd known the chain of events that would ensue after his impulsive decision had been reached, because it doesn't take long for Red to get some vengeful ideas in his head -- and the tools to carry them out.
Mandy is by no means a fast-paced film, rather it's a more atmospheric experience that plays with visual convention rather than with narration. In fact, storywise, this film is as simple as they come. A wrong is committed, and the righteous hero kills his way to the top, in the name of vengeance and closure. That's not meant to be dismissive, as co-writer / director Panos Cosmatos infuses his second film with an enthralling energy that can keep the viewer's attention through the first two thirds, so long as they are patient to get to the closing act that sees Cage's protagonist Red go full on Rambo against his enemies.
It's equally easy to root for his quest, as Linus Roache's Sand Jeremiah is both compelling and absolutely disgusting to watch in his quest for the heart of Andrea Riseborough's Mandy. The character, a failed 70's music star who found LSD and a higher calling, is unlike anything we've seen Roache play, and his interplay with Riseborough during the second act more than makes up for Cage's temporary disappearance from Mandy. If anything, there's enough material between these two leads to have written Nicolas Cage out of the film completely, but not enough for the final confrontation between Red and Jeremiah to be truly satisfying.
With that stipulation, when Cage rejoins Mandy, the vengeance angle still totally works after the groundwork set by our observations of Red and Mandy's relationship, as well as how Mandy carries herself when in Jeremiah's clutches. Rather than making her a standard damsel in distress, she's a skittish and sensitive, but still very much a cognizant party in the whole affair. So when Red's heart aches for her absence, we can still get behind his wanting to avenge her, even if our hearts aren't totally with the cause.
The slow, methodical crawl of Mandy is punctuated by violence when needed, setting up a final half hour or so of heavy metal combat that closes the film like a shot of adrenaline to the chest. There's no wire-fu or jump kicks to be seen, rather hard fought battles with blunt and/or sharp instruments, brute force, and some nails thrown in for flavor. And despite the story's shortcomings, the shift totally works, as Cosmatos has had us sitting in the right sort of atmospheric stew to prime us for what was eventually going to happen.
Mandy could have done a little better with what it had as a movie, but it cannot be written off as a bad time. The audience is encouraged to get lost and take the trip, which ultimately leads to a colorful nightmare trading in death, revenge, and true love. Think of the film as a sensory deprivation tank, allowing you to cut yourself off from the outside world, if only for a little while. One final note: after seeing Mandy, someone needs to hand Joe Mangiello a copy of the film, as well as Panos Cosmatos' phone number. If that pair doesn't work together on some sort of collaboration for Death Saves, then that's just karmic money being left on the table.