Filmmaker Panos Cosmatos‘ “Mandy” is batshit crazy — and that is meant as the high compliment possible. This 120-minute hallucination into dreamy hell is visually stunning, and unlike anything, you’ve ever seen before. Yes, there are midnight movie tropes in the film; a chainsaw battle, an atmospheric soundtrack, and Nicolas Cage going completely bonkers by chugging a bottle of whiskey and snorting “cult coke,” but this revenge story, concocted from the deepest parts of Comsatos’ subconscious, is a unique brand of trippy surrealism.
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Set in the early ’80s, the story finds Mandy Bloom (Cage) and his girlfriend Red (Andrea Riseborough) leading a loving and peaceful existence in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. However, when a satanic cult captures Red, “Mandy” turns into a journey filled with bloody vengeance, and it’s all served by Cosmatos on a plate of hellfire, and brimstone. The result is incredibly hypnotic, an instant cult classic, driven by a death-metal score courtesy of the late brilliant mind of composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who passed away earlier this year.
LISTEN: An Exclusive Preview Of The ‘Mandy’ Soundtrack, Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Final Work
Cosmatos’ psychedelic visuals will stay etched in your memory for days as the 44-year-old director delivers on the potential he showed in his 2010 debut “Beyond the Black Rainbow” and then some. We briefly spoke to the filmmaker about how the idea of “Mandy” came to be, his collaboration with Jóhannsson and letting Nicolas Cage just do his thing on-screen.
It’s almost indescribable to describe this movie to someone that hasn’t seen it, are you able to explain it?
I sort of think of it as a phantasmagorical rock opera, that’s the tone I was aiming for in my head while making the movie. Traditionally a rock opera would have songs and dance, but this felt more in the spirit of those movies, this sort of larger than life, the emotional operatic journey
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What made you want to make “Mandy”?
I think I was just working through some issues with my parents. I wrote this and “Beyond the Black Rainbow” at the same time as I was dealing with the issues that happened that both “Black Rainbow” and “Mandy” came out of those therapy sessions. That’s why they do feel like two sides of the same coin. One is about control and sterility, and the other is about a rush, an emotional world. I don’t know specifically why they came out the way they did, but subconsciously that’s how it felt.
Would it be easy to assume that you could have quite easily made “Mandy” instead of “Black Rainbow” in 2010?
No [laughs]. Because “Mandy” needed a lot more money to be made, more resources needed to be gathered. Actually, “Mandy” was supposed to have an even more expensive budget. There was this one sequence from an early draft that would have cost around four times the budget of what we had and that allowed me to strip down the idea of the biker gang. It was, in a way, good that we didn’t have the money for that because it gave me the opportunity to make the film more refined, with more pure depth, you know? Around the same time, I had this dream about these black creatures in a house that were covered in tar, and I realized that’s what the black skulls were. I like this version much more than the more expensive set-piece that we had before.
The brilliant score drives the movie; it would be a radically different movie without it.
Scores can drastically change the tone of any film, and you just have to work with the right person. What I told Jóhann [Jóhannsson] very early on that I wanted it to feel like a disintegrating phantasmagorical rock opera, a sort of sermon. We wanted it to use our past loves and influences but without seeming rote, and more of an interpretation of those things. We tried to avoid creating a nostalgic feel and more of a reinterpretation.
It just drives the story
I think in making ‘Black Rainbow’ I realized that I was interested in a heavily visual, music-driven film.
This score will be one of the truly lasting works of Jóhann’s career
Yeah, he put his everything into this film. From my perspective, it was a wonderful relationship. Even though his other works are very spartan and beautiful, he also had this side to him that was a very Icelandic metalhead and transgressive cinema, he was able to express himself here in a way that he couldn’t in his other scores.
Was the film scored only during post-production?
Well, we sort of had concepts early on, and he kept making the music until the very last day of mixing.
Nic Cage’s acting style is well-known by now, did you have to give him any advice as to how to approach this role or did you just let him rip and do his thing?
[Laughs] Well, of course, I gave him advice! He’s a great guy to work with, I felt like working with a friend, he immediately understood where I was coming from. When he arrived, we sort of concocted the path of the character from an ordinary man to a sort of raw, nervy animal to some demi-God-like Jason Voorhees figure. Just like Jóhann’s contribution, I don’t think “Mandy” would have been the movie that it became without Nic’s artistry and input.
“Mandy” is open in limited release and all VOD streaming channels now.