Prepare for one hell of a trip.
What did I even just get myself into? I remember catching a trailer for this, and adding it to my queue long before I could actually get it in the mail in the first place. It finally shows up, and I’ve all but forgotten anything about it - so I throw into the description real quick. Nicolas Cage? Check. Revenge flick? Check. I’m good to rock and roll, surely this will be an entertaining thing. Man, was I woefully under prepared for what I was about to see. Get ready for a blend of things so intense you might end up hating and loving at the same time - it’s time to push play on Mandy.
Seriously though, holy crap. Without getting into if it was good or bad, this movie ends up being this crazy blend of so many things. It’s like if you opened up your blender and just started chucking things in - Stranger Things, Blade Runner, Heavy Metal, Hellraiser, Drive Angry, religion, actors you wouldn’t expect, and a bucket full of artsy inclinations towards lighting and editing. In all honesty, it’s a bit overwhelming the amount of things going on here - down to the randomly inserted title to tell you where you are. No, it’s not a normal subtitle style font a the bottom of the screen, but a full on fancy art style title, similar to what you would expect to see in the titles for Stranger Things. You would think that it meant that you would end up getting a bunch of those - but no, the entire thing takes place in the same area, so outside of that one splash and the actual Title screen, it doesn’t pop up again. Woo buddy, and that’s just a small tasting of the cracker pile.
First things first however - the plot. It’s actually a pretty simple revenge flick. With the absolute Frankensteinian amount of parts in this thing, you would think it would get more elaborate or hard to follow, but no. The plot is single handedly the easiest part to digest of this movie. Guy and girl love each other, some cultist shows up and murders the girl, guy goes mental and goes on a revenge-spurred murder spree. What I’m not saying up until now is the crazy amount of subtext you could probably either recognize (if intentional) or make up (if not) to go along with this super simple plot. Demons, monsters, the horrors of believing, the foulness of drugs, good and evil - all that sort of thing could probably be found enough to write a paper on if that was your sort of thing. It’s not my particular cup of tea to potentially be putting words in a director or writer’s mouth however, so I tend to just recognize that it could be dug by those wanting it - for me, it helped make some scenes have more oomph, such as the “evil” biker gang being made up to be quite demonic. The more religious type might get more out of digging in if they can look past the “warning about blind faith” part (sometimes they get offended by that), as I feel like there’s probably some strong parallels to some stuff in there that I obviously don’t know being not one of that crowd.
In all honesty though, that simple plot also brings up one of the first evils of the movie itself - it feels quite long. Particularly in the beginning, when it takes roughly half an hour (quarter the run time) to have any sort of plot-driving event happen, and another thirty minutes to get to acting upon that catalyst and driving the rest of the movie forward. Yes, the still incredibly artsy and pretty first thirty does a good job of setting up the two mains as likeable to make you want to side with Cage’s character when he finally hits revenge mode, or introduce to you the cult that’s serving as bad guys and elaborate on why you should totally not like them - but it really doesn’t stop it from feeling any slower. The second half of the movie speeds things up nicely, and by the end things are going so breakneck that at times you aren’t even sure who the heck that guy getting killed was supposed to be or if you’ve seen them earlier in the movie or not. The artsy can also dial itself up rather high at times, doing things like showing - I think mind you, since it’s artsy and I' didn’t create the thing - that the lead gal is a caring empathic person. The other more artsy things at that point belong more in the discussion of the effects, which has it’s own pros and cons, but largely if you can survive the first half of the movie without falling to boredom you should end up feeling pretty rewarded by the end.
The effects are cool and all, but before I get to that I’d like to talk about the audio. Actor lines are delivered well, and although I did miss one line being said that’s largely because I got distracted by the food I was trying to cram into my mouth as opposed to a balancing issue of any kind. There’s also fine little touches to things - such as all the wilderness sounds cutting out to hint towards impending dangers, or even the dull beating of the helicopter rotors in the opening fly-over shots. The actors all do a fine job delivering what’s asked of them as well, and some moments are really helped by adding in a bit of audio effects - echos, reverb, sometimes even pitch dropping. The main reason, however, I felt like mentioning this first is largely because it’s the main thing that helped me keep interested till when I got to the meatier part of the movie - the soundtrack. There’s a pretty good mix of music in here, but I was loving most of it. From the very peaceful and near meditation music that sets you at ease near the start, to those lovely synth wave laser sounds, all the way towards the very metal heft by the end. At times, there’s even a seemingly lack of spoken lines, giving you mostly folly and the soundtrack to accompany you across your trek - so for me at least, it’s a good thing that I really enjoyed it. Admittedly, despite this praise, I don’t walk out with any particular tone stuck in my head, but I can fully recognize the effective feeling each song tried to get across, so that’s a little better than some scores out there.
Of course there’s the effects department as well. Artsy things usually do a lot with this, and this movie isn’t an exception whether it’s meant to be more art-house or grind-house. There are constant use of filtered light colors to set moods, or even lighting in general to produce shadows and obscure figures. Subtle things will pop up that are totally inconspicuous and indeed if you are busy eating your food you won’t even know exist. Moments such as the lead lady having one eye that seems to be off - having a darker ring around the iris - or after action gets started up, a darkness seeping in around a character as they elaborate on the darkness they feel emanating from the main character. Sometimes the detail simply hints at something to come - like the blade version of From Dusk till Dawn’s character Sex Machine’s crotch gun. It doesn’t just end there either, as we layer things on with the audio to create a hallucination, drug addled state that reminds me of moments watching Natural Born Killers. Even still, we have plenty of costume components - mostly within the evil biker gang - to creep up the picture and add a feeling of reference towards some evil from Hellraiser. Of course, what revenge movie would be right without violence? Well don’t you worry, there is a lot of blood in here - from over the top Raimi style gallons to some more subdued but painful looking barbed wire. If even still all of this acid trip combination isn’t enough for you, we also get straight up animated sections that would feel at home in metal video if not Heavy Metal the movie. You could even relish in the moment where the main decides to cast himself some crazy-shiny spear-axe to go combat the biker gang if you wanted.
At this point, I feel like it’s redundant to point out the movie is pretty cinematic. The way shots play out - although at times confusing due to strobe lighting effects - shows some nice grasps on constructing movies that even with my limited experience in film studies can understand and appreciate. If anything is to be the one selling point and stand out though - melting pot excluded giving that’s actually a combination of many things - I’d have to point out Cage. The man can act, especially when that acting calls for crazy. You will believe Cage standing in the bathroom, covered in blood and his tighty whiteys and shotgunning a bottle of booze as he goes from lightly enraged, to fully enraged, to incredibly sad, to crazy murderous. Yes, I laughed as the scene was going on and had the mental thought of “this is more of Cage then I ever wanted to see,” but the guy has a range when it comes to overpowering the top rung of “over the top” and it’s out in spades in this movie. Even when he’s more reigned in he does a great job here, and if all the artsy shots and good effects or kicking soundtrack wasn’t a selling point, he easily could be.
This is a movie that I certainly can’t recommend to everybody, but I certainly had fun with it when it finally picked up. That long startup phase had left me feeling a little defeated - despite it being well constructed and doing what it’s intended to do - but by the time Bill Duke shows up I’ve already got my chair engaged for maximum entertainment. If you like Cage, it’s probably something you already planned on checking out and good for you. If you like revenge flicks I imagine you’ve already got it in your queue as well, and will probably find this a lot more fun than a handful of the current batch available since that one with Kevin Bacon came out (there has been a lot since then, trust me). If you happen to have epilepsy and can’t deal with strobes though, perhaps have someone watch it first so they can skip those parts for you or pass on this one - those flashes can get pretty intense at times, even when they are done to good effect. For the rest of us, its a pretty decent time with an amalgamation of elements turning it into something I probably never could have expected going in.