Lumberjack Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) lives in an isolated cabin with his artist girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), who catches the eye of folk singer, sex/drug cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Jeremiah attempts to seduce Mandy by way of impressing her with his sweet tunes, which doesn't really go as planned...as you could have guessed based on Mandy's penchant to wearing metal rock tshirts. Unfortunately for her, Jeremiah is a sensitive artist who reacts to her disdain in a gruesome manner, launching a wrathful rampage by Red, bent on vengeance by any means.
Mandy is Lynchian at its first half, and Raimi-esque by the second. It's a weird trip that often depicts an 80s heavy metal album cover come to life, and although it has some wonderful zingers of lines, it also has some oddly lazy ones like when a demon biker gang member slashes at Red with a knife and Red rages "that was my favorite shirt!" It's a moment that easily gets some chuckles from the audience, but feels more like a missed opportunity at a better, wittier line.
There's no denying Mandy's style, and it comes as no surprise that Cosmatos is the son of director George P. Cosmatos who helmed Rambo II and Cobra. Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb works some grungy magic with red-drenched scenes and surreal strobe flares. Not to be forgotten is Johan Johansson's synth heavy soundtrack, proving his versatility and skill once again (and once again making us mourn his untimely departure). The low budget forced the team to work in digital, even if their influences are strictly analog, but Mandy is nevertheless able to evince a look that is both low-focus grain and slickly graphic novel.
That duality plays out in its tone, which is both its strength and its weakness. Mandy ends up being a complete gorefest, but wants you to admire it more than have fun. It never descends into camp or meta winks, but yet wants to be a vintage 80s action fest all the same. It's not as genuine as a Lynch feature, which is just plain strange without worrying about how it will be perceived. The production is so heavy, the only reason it doesn't completely overwhelm its characters is because of Cage's manic performance and Riseborough's otherworldly detachment. Cage, thankfully, pops out of the blood-soaked veneer of the movie with the sheer strength of his white-balled gaze and bared fangs. The same can't be said about its admittedly creepy yet mostly forgettable villains.
There's a masterpiece that's hinted at here, if Mandy had merely gone through a few tweaks. But that doesn't mean it isn't a good romp to enjoy with a midnight crowd. There's certainly a new scene to add to Cage's curriculum vitae of film freak-outs, and it might be worth it alone to witness Red's armory (including a shotgun crossbow, amongst others). However, Mandy ends up being more of a missed opportunity that tries a little too hard.