Dir: Panos Cosmatos; Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake, Clément Baronnet. Cert 18, 121 mins
No one does demented quite like Nic Cage. Throughout his career, the American star has specialised in playing martyred loners: strung-out alcoholics, corrupt cops, and soldiers with post traumatic stress. Fans of his work will relish his extravagantly oddball performance as a dark avenger in this luridly overwrought horror movie.
Cage is first spotted brandishing a chain saw (he eventually gets to let rip with it in a bizarre late fight sequence). Given the deafening music that fills almost every second of the film, the mumbled dialogue, distorted voices and self-consciously phantasmagoric imagery, it isn’t easy to follow the plot or the characters’ motivations. Villainous cult members (“Jesus freaks”) led by the Rasputin/Manson-like Jeremiah (an enjoyably over-the-top Linus Roach in Klaus Kinski mode) have taken a bad batch of LSD which has played havoc with their sense of morality. They come out to the woods where Red Miller (Cage) lives with his beloved hippy artist girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), ready to wreak havoc. “You’re a special one, Mandy. I too am special. Let us be special together,” Jeremiah suggests to the artist and then gets very angry indeed when she starts laughing at him.
Cage is tied up and near crucified in barbed wire and spends much of the film covered in dried blood, but that doesn’t hold him back in the slightest when it comes to hunting down Jeremiah and his followers.
The story is set in 1983 in the “Shadow Mountains”. We hear a brief snippet of President Reagan speaking about the economy but there is little here that ties the film to the 1980s. It’s a primal revenge drama. In spite of the stomach-churning violence – the multiple scenes of garrotting, impaling, decapitation, incineration and the “crazy evil”, as Cage calls it – the film is partly tongue in cheek. It opens with a blast of King Crimson on the soundtrack and is filled with ironic music references to everybody from the Carpenters to Neil Young.
Lines like, “Take a good look, you worthless piece of human excrement. This is the trusted blade of the pale night,” are what passes for small talk in the very bizarre world conjured up by the filmmakers.
For no particular reason, other than to add to the prevailing mood of extreme strangeness, writer-director Panos Cosmatos throws in some animation. The performances are as arch and crude as the dialogue. Nonetheless, the film does pick up momentum. In its own deranged way, it is inventive and funny as well as very macabre. Look out for the scene in which Cage escapes his barbed wire bonds, ripping his body to pieces in the process, and then performs first aid on himself with what appears to be a bottle of gin or vodka. (He pours some of the spirit into his many wounds to disinfect them but guzzles much more of it down his throat.) The director’s approach is strictly one-note. This isn’t a story that builds up into an orgy of violence and bloodletting. It starts in a frenzy, continues in a frenzy and ends in one too.