… the fuck did I just watch?
We all know the joke about Nic Cage movies by now. In case you don’t, well…
Now, here’s the thing – and this is important to realize – Nic Cage isn’t a bad actor. He’s an incredible actor with a massive range, where he can do subtle micro-expressions all the way up to volcanic passion-fueled mania, even in the same scene. He’s jarring because of that range and he tends to pick roles that let him play to the full range of those abilities. Most of the time those scripts are terrible because containing that much emotional whiplash is hard from a story perspective, especially when you’re working with maybe a couple of hours of self-contained story.
But here’s an argument you’re not going to hear very much: Nic Cage movies are only capable of being made with Nic Cage in them. There isn’t anyone else alive that could make something like the Wickerman or Next or even Bangkok Dangerous watchable. Those scripts are awful, but Nic Cage comes along and somehow those movies are solid gold.
And I don’t mean this ironically. I enjoy Nic Cage’s performances. I like seeing how far he’s willing to push himself to the very boundaries of human emotion. And the movies he picks are interesting from that perspective. Drive Angry, Season of the Witch, Knowing… he picks movies that hint at a greater world that is beyond mortal ken. He channels an almost Lovecraftian presence wherever he goes and whomever he inhabits, bringing a shining madness to even his simplest performances.
And then there’s Mandy.
Mandy is a movie that plays to all of Nic Cage’s strengths and then relegates him to the background. He’s a passenger riding an emotional tidal wave that is broken into three parts: a calm hesitance, a breakwater swell, and then a horrific riptide that leaves nothing in its wake. This movie belongs to Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache, the two of them setting a strange dichotomy that traps Cage and keeps him there.
This should be a straightforward revenge movie: boy loves girl, cult sees girl, girl rejects cult, cult kills girl, boy kills cult. The story is simple enough as to be insulting in that simplicity, but that is because a traditional narrative for a movie like this is an afterthought; logic is going to take a backseat to a turbulent emotional storm that will lull you into a false sense of security before drowning you in a tidal wave that is like nothing you will ever see again.
At first, there is Andrea Riseborough’s Mandy, an almost ethereal being who floats through the movie like some absent-minded divinity caught in a human suit. She’s artistic, nerdy, caustic, and kind. There’s a quietness to her that make her easy to seep into, her world not a delight so much as a dream that you find yourself happy to be in.
Then she walks past Linus Roche’s Jeremiah Sand, a cult-leader made so much worse by circumstances beyond anyone’s control and turned into an unholy nightmare that only pretends to be a man. Any sense of tranquility is shattered the moment he wafts on screen and is gone as his corruptive faith taints everything.
And Nic Cage restrains his manic energy so long as Mandy is present, but the moment she’s been stolen and ruined by Jeremiah all bets are off. Nic Cage delves deep into his passions and the resulting performance is everything you coulf possibly want from him; he leaves nothing out, leaves nothing behind. It’s emotionally exhausting but impossible to look away from, this movie, and if you get a chance to see it you should.
It’s not even a movie so much a fever-dream experience.
And it could not have happened without Nic Cage.
You can and should see this on the big screen. If you live in Vancouver that means trekking out to the infamous Rio Theater, where they have shows on Sunday, October 21st and Monday, October 22nd, and you can pre-order tickets by clicking on those dates. The Sunday showing’s doors open at nine with the movie starting at nine-thirty, while the Monday showing’s doors open at eight-fifteen with the movie starting at eight forty-five.
Be warned that this movie is not for everyone; it is full of blood, gore, demonic imagery and terrible violence. It is terrifying in its desire to rip the concept of sanity to pieces and set those pieces on fire. But it is also beautiful, haunting, and finally still. It won’t let you go, anymore than Mandy could ever leave Nic Cage, and who among us would want to be alone in a nightmare world when you can drift through the tranquil haze that is Mandy’s soul?