I can still without a doubt say that Panos Cosmatos’ 2010 feature “Beyond the Black Rainbow” is my favorite film of the 21st century. I readily admit my taste runs nostalgic – and tends to favor genre and b-movies over indie and mainstream fare. I am a child of the VHS era, and much of my taste in film comes from walks through the rental aisles, each garish box a window into a different dimension of dream or nightmare.
It comes as no surprise that Cosmatos shares a similar past. He spoke about it in a recent interview with BMD’s Jacob Knight:
Cosmatos’ second film, “Mandy,” continues to fill my thoughts. It, like its predecessor, is a phantasmagorical experience – a vision quest through a VHS-summoned mythos. The pacing isn’t quite as Quaaludic as that of “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” but those moments are there. It absolutely ensorcells the viewer in perfect snare of mind-bending visuals and sonic doom. *
Much has been made of Nicholas Cage’s role in the film – and Cage really does deliver a performance that plays to his strengths as both an understated everyman and a throbbing vein of manic energy. But the entire cast makes for a lovely troupe of the strange – from Linus Roache’s incredible performance as Jeremiah Sand and Andrea Riseborough’s cryptic titular character to Ned Dennehy’s enraptured Brother Swan and Richard Brake’s LSD chemist, who serves as the addled oracle in our hero’s quest.
“Mandy” is built upon the standard narrative bones of the revenge picture, which means certain twists and turns are almost guaranteed – as is a certain violent nastiness. To its credit, the picture clings to the b-movie framework with a sort of religious mindfulness – and largely avoids the more exploitative pitfalls of revenge cinema.
I’m still contemplating the films’ place in the Me Too era, however. Revenge films, after all, have long centered around myogenetic violence – and “Mandy” follows in this tradition. We get to know Mandy somewhat, but the film is largely the tale of her partner’s revenge over the evil cultists and supernatural bikers who wronged her. But Cosmatos does imbue her with a certain strength. More notable, however, is the degree to which the machinations of the villainous Jeremiah Sand resemble the allegations made against numerous powerful men in the last year. I’m not sure the production timeline on “Mandy” matches up perfectly with accusations against Harvey Weinstein and Louie C.K., but it all seems echoed in his character. His crimes and ultimate comeuppance seem to serve as something of a b-movie-fueled effigy.
“Mandy” is not a film for everyone – despite the fact that, yes, everyone loves Cheddar Goblin. You may take issue with narrative and character – or its seeming attempt to process deeper, serious issues via its exploitation cinema-tinged alchemy. But if you were born under the right stars, were nursed by the same VHS dreams, then it will likely spoil you for anything else 2018 has to offer.
It’s out now on digital, and even making the rounds at select theaters.
* Sonic doom in this case provided by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson and Sunn O’s Stephen O'Malley. I highly recommend the score and soundtrack – collected here in one Spotify playlist.