All The Boys Love Mandy Lane
dir. Jonathan Levine
Release Date: Oct 11, 13
It’s taken a really, really long time for All The Boys Love Mandy Lane to see the light of day. It debuted at the Toronto International Film festival in 2006 to mixed, if generally enthusiastic, reviews, and pretty much disappeared after that. After being dropped by the Weinsteins, the film struggled for years to find distribution, becoming something of an internet cult favorite, its inability to come out shrouding it in mystery and rendering it something of a hot item on the torrent circuit. At last, Jonathan Levine’s debut feature (he went on to direct 50/50, The Wackness and Warm Bodies, all of which saw the light of day first) has made it to theaters. And all hubbub aside, by the end of All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, it’s hard not to wonder what all the fuss was about.
Mandy (Amber Heard) is that high school girl who goes away for the summer and develops into a young sexpot, the object of every boy’s affections. One year, that leads to her and her obsessed best friend Emmet (Michael Welch) going to a party where all the boys want to hook up with Mandy. One young man, particularly bent on earning her affections, ends up killing himself after attempting to jump into his pool from the roof of his own house. Nine months later, a new set of boys want to get closer to Mandy, so she’s invited to a party on a cattle ranch, where a series of stock horror movie types (the rich pothead, the sensitive black man, the slut, the cheerleader, the asshole, the mysterious stranger with an accent) spend a weekend getting drunk and high and laid, before the bodies start piling up.
The tragedy of Mandy Lane is how early it establishes who’s killing all the nubile young youths, because the culprit makes too much sense and because an audience that has any knowledge of horror movies knows that the film is showing its hand in order to draw attention away from any twists yet to come. There’s a ruthless efficiency to the early scenes, even if the film starts to feel ever more generic once the bloodshed begins, that gets lost late in the film when Mandy Lane goes completely off the rails in an effort to give audiences something more than a dead teenager movie. At least until the film descends into incoherent, faux-cerebral madness in its final act, Levine manages an increasing sense of dread that the film doesn’t really earn. The photography is excellent, making good use of the open expanses of the ranch to create a crushing sense of isolated dread and even occasionally recalling Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in its middle-of-nowhere theatrics.
This is not Hooper’s masterpiece, though, not by a long shot. Ever since Scream bumped horror cinema into the postmodern era, less shrewd filmmakers seemed to decide at one point or another that doing a traditional slasher movie with a self-aware wink was enough to rouse the long-stagnant genre from its stupor. However, meta references aren’t enough to distract from the fact that many of these offerings still just follow the rail of “hot teenagers die, somebody’s behind it, probably a late-game twist, credits.” (It doesn’t help that the film finally sees the light of day after The Cabin in the Woods, which pretty much put that whole game to rest.) Mandy Lane is no different; even when its terrible finale tries to throw a change-up, it’s far too late for a film that’s otherwise a paint-by-numbers horror offering. Perhaps worse is that most of the red herrings that the film offers early on (the ranch hand’s military history, Mandy’s brief same-sex flirtation in one scene) suggest more interesting roads for the film to travel than it ultimately bothers with. All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a generic horror flick that aspires to more but never really bothers to work for it.