In MANDY, Nicolas Cage proves his levels of fearless crazy have no bottom (or top, same thing), and Canada's Panos Cosmatos proves his debut film BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW was no psychedelically-distilled Ativan fluke or one-off experiment. Like Cage, Mandy is insanity brought to high art. It's "strange and eternal," druggy with slowed-down sound, psychedelic movement trails, pineal-buzzing drones, rock and roll violence, a fusion of fantasy and reality in which Cage goes so nuts he becomes a demon before our very eyes. As Red, a woodsman (aka lumberjack, for the chainsaw hath replaced yonder axe), Cage starts out soft and intimate, deeply attuned to his lady faire and full of gentle weird jokes. After she's dead, man, he gets mad, walks with his gut out, his butt lit, his eyes covered with shades instead of goggles when he uses his home forge, guzzling his shower vodka in his underwear and pouring it over his open wounds, howling in a way that's totally new for the actor and it's like nothing cinema has ever heard the like of--not nasal and hysterical but deep, tragic and genuinely scary. He rides a demonic ATV through the wild north woods in the dead of night; he fights chainsaw duels; he burns churches; he does every drug in sight. Crushing skulls, losing his shit over a demon ripping his favorite shirt, saying wild shit like "a psychotic drowns where a mystic swims" and telling super-cool Bill Duke he needs his crossbow back because he's hunting "Jesus freaks" (spoilers why). To paraphrase Mrs. Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby, he's too... tremendous!
And so is the Mandy. It's saturated with a pleasing palette of deep reds and blacks, and propelled by Jóhann Jóhannsson's score, a bed of murky drones and synths both thumberling and quiscubescent (two words I just invented). King Crimson's "Starless and Bible Black" slithering like syrupy warm serpents down the river lane of the opening credits. Jóhannsson's score isn't quite as instantly riveting and tripped out as Sinoa Caves' for Rainbow, it's more varied, moving from romantic minor key Eno-ish dalliances to thunder god forge burbling, eerie droning. But when old Nic preps for war, joint or cigarette in mouth, goggles on, gut out, in flow pulse-quickening synth cycles that sound like an old flying saucer getting kick-started deep in the woods with no ears to hear it. We finally learn what that quiscubescent sound freels lorick! (New words for new sensations).
The plot finds us in--as the first chapter title explains 'the Shadow Mountains - 1983 A.D. That AD is a key right there, for this is a story that could be told in the wild west of 1883 or some Middle Ages Belgian schwarzwald (where it was films), aside from its one Piscean foot being in the world of Mandy's current fantasy novel, and her interest in the planet Jupiter. The Shadow Mountains are the kind of place so deep only truckers, loggers, drug manufacturers, and the assorted good and evil forces and businesses they engender, dwell. It's a kind of old growth paradise, especially shot through with hazy lavender and pink sunlight streams which bathe the life and pad of Red and his artist wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in haunting lights - every frame of their existence is gorgeous. Happy as could be, they live as any of us would at the time, if we could--with great sound editing capturing their intimate whispers, talking about Galactus, Erik Estrada, Jupiter, the stars--real intimate talk, like the film, rooted in reality, the stars, and pop culture. With her glasses and crow's feet proudly un-Botoxed, her Bette Davis x Peter Lorre eyes staring right into him across the water (they live "out on Crystal Lake") and their backyard campfire, distant howls or human moans too abstract to investigate, Jóhannsson droning over them all Vangelis Blade Runner "Love Theme"-ish dreamy - it's a new kind of paradise, the nightmare nipping at their toes... we're deep in it with them, with Nic, staring at Mandy through the flames like she's the anima princess of his dreams.
She is, and the film follows her all the way into the mystic. With her mind alive to the infinite, taking weird Antichrist-style sojurns into the chthonic woods, via her dreams and the novel she's reading about serpents eyes and red skies, Mandy is perhaps open enough to the oceanic currents that she gets ensnared in the neural network of Manson/ Papa Jupiter (!)-ish cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) who takes it as divine right that he should have her as part of his flock (They are 'the Children of the New Dawn'). Ere long the horns of Abraxas summon a gang of evil demon bikers, somewhere between the Cenobites, the gang in Mad Max, and the radio active ash-blackened New Mexican derelicts in the new Twin Peaks. And well, that's when it gets really interesting, because one thinks they have this movie all figured out -- some variation on any of Nic's angry cult-busting, child or bride-rescuing/avenging adrenalin junkets, like Drive Angry--but the left turns start coming, we veer into the realm of deep myth - with his gone eyes Red walks 'the demon path' like Lone Wolf sans Baby Cart, violence overtaking him in a kind of supernatural shock like Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs and/or Shauna Macdonald in The Descent as well as, of course Max von Sydow in Virgin Spring. The side that didn't want war always takes the first hit, but the sting of the slap wakes their fury, and nothing's scarier than a civilized human who suddenly has nothing left to lose. That sounds cliche'd, but it's only when the filmmaker forgets the archetypal roots, the forge, the legends and myth underwriting their own variation, forgets the moon and paints the finger, that it becomes hackwork (like a dozen Cages what shall be nameless).
As Cosmatos' fantastic feature debut 2010's Beyond the Black Rainbow, mixed elements of classic Canadian sci-fi horror films (Scanners, Blue Sunshine), here the threads seem to be Valhalla Rising, The Virgin Spring (there's definitely a Norse mythology undertone at play) and that Canadian classic Heavy Metal, along with Ralph Bakshi, and The Wall (via animated dream sequences), but the same style and mood--a slow druggy deep woods where people seem to swim through the LSD atmosphere and a psychopath uses strong psychedelics as a means of control and reality-bending--and the same theme: the way under strong drugs, murder and torture, can come as easy and peace and love (depending on the dosage and your gullibility), and how the descent into dark archaic demonic madness is always just a drop on the tongue or in the eye... away; the monsters of the fantasy novel you're reading are right there, outside your window while you sleep. Elements right out of Mandy's current book: the Loc-nar-evoking Serpent's Eye jewel; the 'Horn of Abraxas that summons the Black Skulls; the "tainted blade of the pale night, straight from the abyssal lair," monstrous demons slavering while they talk in rumbly inhuman voices, their ATVs roaring like otherworldly beasts, their LEDs beaming like the eyes of dragons, they manifest from the woods like Mandy is the gatekeeper of reality, the dream of the dreamer, turned nightmare. Starlings smashed in sacks or set ablaze - all horrors doubling back along the Moebius ouroboros.
This archetypal warp seems to be, now that Cosmatos has made two films using it, a genuine new, and profound style. Deep immersion into a druggy slow motion bizarro world awash in deep ASMR whispery intimacy creates space for both the stars, the page, and the woods to merge into one; reality bending and warping match the perceptions of the totally tripped out, take it from me. I was there. For every peak, a valley... and some so dark it takes getting even darker to find the light again.
|Nic, powering up for battle (i.e. guzzling vodka in the bathroom and screaming).|
|No, my children, it's not Richard Lynch|
|99% of all great horror/genre films remember people|
watch TV, and they keep their sets on all the time.
Though filmed in the wilds of Belgium, presumably the black forest region where Hansel and Gretl were chased by Suspiria witches, it's clear this is a film with the wild depths of the Canadian provinces in its heart - dark forest lands that maps can't do justice to, as if our entire USA is engulfed in old growth and chilly salmon-stoked streams, wilderness where meth and LSD labs and wild ATV-riding nightmares run amok. We forget how vast empty country is, our minds pull towns closer together like a wormhole. But if you've ever driven across country, in the North, Highway 80 or 90, you've seen it - the vastness, the emptiness, like it's a whole separate dimension. That vastness coupled to the deep old growth forest vibe is what makes dark Nordic folktales spring to life when enough residents are high as hell or have done enough astral voyaging in their lives that they can shrug off massive doses of the 'good stuff' and laugh mercilessly at the penis of their insane captor. And yet are no different than people you probably know, that cool couple (4) who exist casually in that gulf between blue collar outdoors jobs and white collar education, who love all the things they do and are humble and just out for the same things the rest of us are. The self-imposed dream exile of the Jesus freaks and Black Skulls, these makers of dark myth, are the real losers.
That may be the highest auric ray inherent in the glow of Mandy, the idea that if the average dude with his 9-5 outdoor job, who just likes kicking back with his old lady on weekends, not starting any trouble, might feel outgunned, out-"lived," by all the wild and polyamorous maniacs out there, maybe it's really the reverse. The 9-5 job-working couples eating dinner in front of the TV are more mythically dense, loom larger on the horizon of glory, than all the murderous hippie Jesus freaks out there combined. If we 'normals' can slow our roll down, bring our Iron John larger-than-lifeness to even the smallest detail in our daily life (instead of letting it just evaporate in a boozy haze), if we can live so minutely that just taking out the trash can reverberate with druggy slow-tempo grinding, the analog synth score in our headphones filling each woodland shadow with dragonly menace, maybe the glowing green gem we somehow lost during the 90s via Bjork, Portishead, DJ Shadow, Moby and Massive A.- all that spinal fluid-draining MDMA heartbreak (3) will turn up at last. Maybe the warm amniotic fuzzy completion that lies even beyond duality and total union with the OMmmm was just waiting out in the backyard for us to finish dinner, so we can race back outside and resume the game before it gets too dark to see the ball.
Maybe, deep inside some shrieking hippie's gut pocket, that ball is still waiting --back there in 1983 AD--back when we were still reading paperbacks and watching arial TV, still rocking to guitar solos on warm analog LPs and cassette mixes, still smoking brown, seedy weed, and riding through deep forest canopy full of insect life; art was still made on paper and canvas and computer programs were loaded via cassette tapes full of grating dial tones or big floppy discs. Cut open that hippie dragon and pull that gem out, Nic Cage!
Always kind of half-assed around the edges, and hammy, as if he was fumbling around on a radio dial of insanity looking for his 'One True Signal' - something deeper and wilder than anyone had ever tuned to before. Never picking a station 'til he found it, he could drive the backseat static crazy. Well, here he found it- here he's busted through all that white noise at last. This is no longer a manic Crispin Glover kind of crazy or a method free-style crazy, but a crazy from the masculine diaphragm, laughing and hollering and roaring in the face of dragons like Blue Babe just ate the Bunyan. We are delivered unto the glory of the Iron John myth. From steel first softened via the nascent Men's Movement of the late 80s, hammered in the Forged in Fire of the anvil-ringing now, the Iron John wildman archetype Nic now embodies passes every strength and sharpness test, slicing through carcasses of false prophets and rows of gossipy phantasm apples. It's not what the man will do the world, it's what the world will do to the man. And Nic isn't even dulled after a brutal leg chain chop. He will cut. He will kill. The serpent's eye is lifted from the abyssal lair in the belly of the beast. Strange and eternal, Mandy of Jupiter ascends.
Dad, if only I ever got to see you working.
1. See SHINING Examples: Pupils in the Bathroom Mirror (10/11/11)
2. The Cheddar Goblin commercial is very gross (he vomits mac and cheese on lucky kids' heads, but makes a great counterpoint to Red's horrible loss, and is made by the genius behind the beloved Too Many Cooks.
3. It took me ten years of mourning to accept that warm 'first night' rush would never come back. Craig got it all down so beautifully I cry to this
4. See also: The Devil's Candy (2015)
Tales from the Benway Pharmacy (Beyond the Black Rainbow, The Machine)
Manson Poppins: The Deathmaster