Review: Mandy, Soaked in Blood, a Contorted, Awful Version of the World

Image courtesy SpectreVision.

Chaos bathed in menacing, colorful light, featuring a lead performer who spends much of the film’s two-hour running time soaked in dark red blood, Mandy is that film horror fans have been hearing about since Sundance and were both anticipating and dreading. The first half of the movie is more straightforward. Set in 1983, Mandy takes place in a secluded woods somewhere where loners can be alone and cults can exist without really being noticed. Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller, a lumberjack who lives with his artist significant other, Mandy Bloom (the haunting Andrea Riseborough), in a cabin where they feel safe and she can talk over the latest fantasy novel she’s reading.

Even in the film’s most docile moments, director Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow), who co-wrote the film with Aaron Stewart-Ahn, fills the screen with ominous shadows (made all the more so by one of the final scores from the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson) and an odd sense of the area’s empty, aching surroundings. Things take a turn when Mandy crosses paths with a group of nomadic cult members, led by Jeremiah (Linus Roache), who spots her walking down the road and sends his minions to fetch her in the night to make her one of his drug-addled wives. And it’s during the abduction sequence that we begin to realize that something in this version of reality doesn’t quite line up with the real world.

With character names like Dog the Dog, Lizzie the Tiger, Scabs, and my personal favorite, Fuck Pig, the beings that are sent to take Mandy from her bed appear to be demons that Jeremiah has access to and who can ride motorcycles. He believes he was chosen and granted an all-access pass to the world by God, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s something else at play. And then comes a horrifying, unspeakable tipping point for Red from which he never really returns. From that point forward, Mandy becomes a full-bore, rage-monster movie filled with psychedelic imagery, nasty creatures, and a layer of blood and gore so thick, you’d need a shovel to get it off the screen.

People often discuss Cage and his quirks as being the highlights of even his worst efforts, but what he’s doing in Mandy is so dialed back for much of the movie that it makes his presence seem all the more menacing. And when he does finally snap, it’s alarming and brutal, especially when it begins to sink in that even after he has exacted his revenge, his mind will never return to normal. There are times when the film is perhaps too deliberately odd and self indulgent for its own good, especially when director Cosmatos forces us to spend time with the cult members (the most fascinating of whom is Olwen Fouéré’s Mother Marlene). If I never see Linus Roache naked again, it will be too soon. But there’s just so much going on here in this contorted, awful version of the world, that it has to be seen to be believed, let alone appreciated. See this in a theater if you possibly can; the collective mind melt experience will be too good to pass up.

The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.