In Mandy, we face the question of how much you can gussy-up the kind of movie that most people have been watching since they were 10 years old.
In 1983, the wary lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) returns to the safety of the cabin he shares with his zonked, facially scarred wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough, who, as in Battle of the Sexes, looks more like a hippie than most of the actual hippies of the hippie years).
Along comes a Mansonoid cult run by Brother Jeremiah (Linus Roache) who, like Charlie Manson, severely overestimates his skills as a musician and has to kill people to make them pay attention to his LP.
Jeremiah sees Mandy, wants her and captures her with the aid of a quartet of demonoids called the Black Skulls that he summons with a diabolical ocarina. When Mandy refuses Jeremiah’s seduction, he kills her in front of Red, after which—to paraphrase the Bride in Kill Bill—Red goes on what the movie advertisements refer to as a “roaring rampage of revenge”; he roars, he rampages, and he gets bloody satisfaction.
This revenge actioner simmers in neon colors, a carnival of evil staged in another part of the David Lynch forest. Director Panos Cosmatos is the son of the man who directed Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). He has inherited his father’s gift for making a forest look really primeval. In Benjamin Loeb’s strobing, lurid photography, even a mud pit is lit up like a Route 66 motel.
Mandy tries, and sometimes succeeds, in becoming the kind of movie you should only see after midnight. At times it’s a great shuddery acid trip, or the cinematic equivalent of prog rock—indeed, King Crimson’s “Starless” is featured in Jóhann Jóhannsson’s soundtrack.
But a slow pace is fatal to grindhouse. The changes of emphasis and time that are so fearfully disorienting in Lynch’s films are more like dead air here. As the atmosphere is more important than the setup and payoff, this is an artsy recreation of a death trap instead of a successor to the grindhouse skullbusters of yesterday.
Cage is triumphantly virile. Strung up with barbed wire by these bad apples, suffering his way into transcendence, one can glimpse how fantastic he would have been as Jesus. Cage can do the ecce homo face like nobody else.
Mandy is crazy, but studiously crazy. Like prog rock when it doesn’t work, it’s like the efforts of classical musicians tackling Delta blues with theremins and Mellotrons.
‘Mandy’ plays through Thursday, Oct. 18, at select theaters and is available on demand at Amazon.com.