Panos Cosmatos’ ‘Mandy’ is a psychedelic horror film that is one part heartfelt love story and one part gnarly revenge film. Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough give soulful performances as the doomed lovers who run afoul of a murderous cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roach). The movie literally pulses with an otherworldly energy that is aided immeasurably by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s incredible score. Sadly, Jóhannsson passed away after completing the score, but his work here serves as a fitting tribute to his talents and his knack for conjuring both absolute darkness and shimmering beauty.
‘Seeker of the Serpent’s Eye’ kicks things off with some huge doom chords that shred through a roiling soundscape, acting as a precursor for the dark drama about to unfold when the Children of the New Dawn cult invade the otherwise peaceful lives of Red and Mandy.
‘Mandy Love Theme’ gives us a sense of their relationship with its aching melody crafted from a bed of synths and echoing guitars. There is a peace in this music, invoking an unhurried life between two people, which makes the brutal end to their kinship even more tragic and painful when it comes.
‘Black Skulls’ brings back the dark, heralding the arrival of the demonic gang of beings that look like Cenobite bikers. Johansson opens up the gates of hell with his soundscape - a shrieking otherworldly dirge that assaults the senses and conjures the arrival of a terrible evil.
‘Death and Ashes’ brings back some of the sounds from the Love Theme, but builds upon them, layering them into a deeply tragic movement, accompanying the death of Mandy while Red is forced to watch.
Driving Carpenter-esque synths arrive in ‘Forging the Beast’, scoring the scene where Nic Cage’s Red determinedly crafts his battle-axe. The keyboards bubble along before the guitars appear to add some crunch and static to the mix.
The doom arrives with ‘Waste’ a low and slow beast that chugs along like some ancient behemoth, all booming drums, rumbling bass, pulsing synths and a refrain that sounds like it was played on a guitar strung with barbed wire. ‘Burning Church’ is a short squall of toxic guitar noise and sinister chords before the love theme returns on ‘Memories’ as Red drives away, having completed his mission and he sees a vision of Mandy, a reminder of all he has lost and what he was fighting for. It’s what lifts the film above pure fever dream heavy metal fantasies, the aching love story and tragedy that rings true amongst the bloodletting and biker demons.
The album finishes with ‘Children of the New Dawn’, a slow beat-driven piece that wasn’t actually used in the film. A descending guitar melody intersects the synths and rhythm section like some sort of inter-dimensional folk rock band playing in slow motion.
Within the film, the music is pushed to the fore, a dark operatic movement that is rarely subtle but extremely effective. It’s a great tragedy that Jóhannsson is no longer with us - Cosmatos has said he felt like their relationship was just getting started - but we have this epic footnote to his life and career to return to again and again.