This is kind of a first for me; I don’t know whether to recommend this movie to you or warn you away from it. At the time of this writing it has held me in emotional torment for three days straight.

It aroused feelings in myself akin to those experienced when seeing Watership Down for the very first time, or Last House on the Left. I state with all sincerity: I don’t know how to react to it.

I absolutely feel that it’s a masterpiece, but I’m afraid to watch it again. I’ve been afraid to go to sleep since I watched it, because of the nightmares it will surely inspire. I’m afraid to go take screen-caps for this article. Do you understand what I’m saying here? This film terrified me on a primal emotional level. Bug-eyed, pants-shitting terror. I was, forgive the tired phrase, literally shaking once it was over.

It’s entirely possible that this particular film, the work of demonstrably visionary director Panos Cosmatos, just happened to hit my personal nostalgia wavelengths; I was 11 in its stated year of 1983. I lived in a house on the edge of a dark wooded area, from which sometimes strange voices and motor noises would emanate. I was prone to waking nightmares based on my childish brain’s interpretation of those sounds.

Well hey folks guess what, Panos reached right into my subconscious fears and put ’em up onto the screen. And oh also it’s waaaaay scarier. And there’s a reason why, that’s realistic and generally believable, and exactly why our parents warned us about drugs in the ’70s and ’80s. They read the news about acid cults, and biker gangs, and men who control women with mind-altering poisons. Apex predator psychos.

The film is in sections, each with its own beautifully lettered title card. The plum is of course the title, with its branching veins of blood, as seen in the trailer. The movie’s overall image is grainy and saturated, giving the appearance of a forgotten film only recently discovered.

Look at this. SAVOR IT.

The sense of menace in this film is overwhelming and unrelenting. The composer of its excellent score, Jóhann Jóhannson, unfortunately OD’d early this year, which sucks but adds an even more tragic edge. I’m being cavalier because this movie rocked me to my fucking core emotionally. I felt an intense urge to contact every girl I’ve ever dated and hug her after seeing it, just out of gratitude that they’re (presumably) alive. This is not out of the realm of possibility, nor would it take very long.

Look, some of you dudes out there, maybe even some girls; you’ve dated a “Mandy” before too, right? Maybe even more than one? Imagine if she fell prey to sick degenerates who did something unimaginably evil to her and made you watch. Something not even sexual. Something so sick and horrific I’m not just hiding it to avoid spoiling it, I don’t want to talk about it. And this is just a movie, about fictional things.

Once Nicolas Cage goes into revenge mode in this film, you want it. You can’t wait to see the bad people die in the most unpleasant and drawn-out fashion possible. You want them to hurt. You want them expunged from the surface of the earth, and cleansed from existence by fire. That’s how bad they are. They’re practically Sin City characters. You need to know the job will be done, and Nicolas Cage does it. 

I know what you’re thinking, vis-à-vis Mr. Cage’s performance in this film; Nicolas Cage is the least crazy thing in it.

Linus Roache as Jeremiah Sand, despicable leader of the “Children of the New Dawn” cult (and failed rock musician)

The effects of LSD are believably simulated; not just the trailing visuals, but the body highs (and lows) of acid, as well as its effective use in mind control. The chemist who makes the drug (Richard Brake) appears at one point, a tripped-out cypher, his facial expression perfectly in sync with the psychotropic waves pummeling his brain. I don’t know how you fake this kind of state, without resorting to simply filming the actors taking actual drugs, like Bad Lieutenant.

Mandy is a conundrum of a date movie, in that I both want to see it with a girlfriend, but also feel a primal urge to protect her from even knowing about it. It puts the idea in your head that something like this could happen to the woman you love. That “crazy evil”, as Cage puts it in the trailer quote, truly exists in this world.

All due respect; that scares the shit out of me. 

So it was with Mandy. This movie scared the ever-loving dog shit out of me. There were moments in the first half where I thought I was going to be sick. I presumed that some terrible fate would befall the titular Mandy, one extreme enough to facilitate brutal revenge via blood-soaked Nicolas Cage. I had no idea. 

I whole-heartedly recommend this fucking movie that has traumatized me all week, to those of you who:

  1. Can really take an emotional beating from a film, like Funny Games
  2. Are cool with a film jacking you around mentally, providing there’s a legitimate payoff in store
  3. Want to see Cage, Riseborough and the whole cast put in career-defining performances, in a razor-wire script that redefines the “psychological thriller”
  4. Are testing the limits of what you can take

Mandy is among the most audacious and brutal films I have ever seen. It is intensely beautiful, even in its cruelest moments. much as our life is. Writer-director Panos is the son of the late great George P. Cosmatos, director of Cobra (the one where Sly Stallone cuts the tip off a slice of pizza with scissors) and Tombstone (which I consider to be the finest Western ever made). Panos’s previous film is Beyond the Black Rainbow, which I will take in at the earliest convenience.

I think I might be at the point where I can sleep again. We’ll see.

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