Take a prog-rock album cover, cross it with a trashy 1980s horror paperback, throw in one gloriously gonzo Nicolas Cage performance, and that’s “Mandy.” Director Panos Cosmatos’ visionary revenge thriller is a dreamy genre exercise that’ll appeal to connoisseurs — though it may flummox anyone just looking for a few pulpy jolts.
Co-written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, “Mandy” stars Andrea Riseborough as the title character: a brainy artist who lives an idyllic life in the woods with her lumberjack boyfriend Red (Cage). Then, Mandy catches the eye of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a cult leader so smitten with her that he calls on his minions and allies — from this world and beyond — to bring her into his fold.
The first hour of “Mandy” will be something of a weeding-out process for audiences. The picture slogs along, with quiet, spacey conversations, broken up by flashes of visual static. There are demonic bikers, nightmarish drug trips and scenes of physical torture, but it’s all slow enough to induce a fugue state.
Then, after the cult hurts Red and Mandy badly, the logger reveals that he has his own resources — and his own underworld connections. As Red systematically goes after everyone in Jeremiah’s circle, the movie’s second half devolves into pure mayhem, with one amped-up bloodletting sequence after another.
Loving “Mandy” means appreciating what’s special about it from start to finish: from the psychedelic opening to the speed-metal finale. This film is a fusion of kitsch and pulp, underscored with a genuine spiritual yearning. It shouldn’t even be shown in theaters; it should be projected onto the side of an old hippie’s van.
Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Playing: Starts Sept. 14, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica