A film review by Craig J. Koban October 17, 2013

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE jj
½   

2013, R, 90 mins.

 

Amber Heard as Mandy Lane  /  Anson Mount as Garth  /  Michael Welch as Emmet  /  Whitney Able as Chloe  /  Edwin Hodge as Bird  /  Aaron Himelstein as Red  /  Luke Grimes as Jake  /  Melissa Price as Marlin  /  Adam Powell as Dylan  /  Peyton Hayslip as Aunt Jo  /  Brooke Bloom as Cousin Jen  /  Robert Earl Keen as Trucker

Directed by Jonathan Levine  /  Written by Jacob Forman

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE marks Jonathan Levine’s directorial debut.  Er…wait a second…how is this possible, you ask?  Hasn’t he already directed films like 50/50 and WARM BODIES?

Well, to save you from further confusion, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE was indeed his directorial debut…way, way back in 2006 when the film was made.  Unfortunately, the original studio that owned the American distribution rights at the time went out of business, and the film remained in release and ownership limbo until the Weinstein Company acquired the rights and finally gave the film a theatrical and VOD release this year.  The film did manage to see the light of day on many film festival circuits during its original production year (it played the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006), but since then the film has gained a bit of a cult fascination and following. 

As for the film itself?  I guess it's Levine’s attempts to make a throwback and nostalgic 1980’s teen slasher flick that both reveres and slyly mocks the standard elements of the genre.  On a positive, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE has an agreeably grungy and dirty looking aesthetic that, in turn, seems like a further wink to 1970’s grindhouse cinema.  The film also seems to have a bit more of a brain in its head than most of the obligatory slasher films of yesteryear.  Yet, part of the failure of this film is the fact that it never really does anything truly novel or fresh with this genre: it understands the horror genre, for certain, but it never seems to daringly subvert it as much as it thinks.  I can certainly see how ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE may have seemed like a revitalizing effort back in 2006, but with it now being released in the wake of so many better genre-mashing works (like THE CABIN IN THE WOODS) it now comes off as too pedestrian and derivative.

 

 

A young Amber Heard plays the titular character here, who is shown in the opening shot of the film as blonde-bombshell of a Texan high school student that is the proverbial object of every young boy’s desires.  She nonetheless turns down most of her classmates' advances and petty come-ons, but she does manage to have a mostly platonic relationship with a geeky outsider named Emmet (Michael Welch).  The pair decides – after much begrudging – to attend a local pool party, during which time one of the school’s prima donna jocks makes multiple unsuccessful passes at Mandy.  As the night progresses, the jilted jock finds himself on the roof of the house, and Emmet convinces the inebriated brute that it would be a good idea to leap off of it and into the pool.  He does, with deadly consequences.

Nine months pass and Mandy seems no longer content with being friends with Emmet, especially after what transpired.  Emmett still pines for Mandy’s affection, but his previous nerdy charm now comes off as more overbearing and creepy to Mandy and her new friends.  Trying to keep her past distantly behind her, Mandy decides to join her new buddies on a weekend retreat to a remote cattle ranch owned by the parents of Red (Aaron Himelstein), and since the parents are out of town, a hedonistic party-like atmosphere only seems inevitable.  One man does remain at the retreat, a brooding and handsome ranch hand named Garth (Anson Mount), who seems a bit plagued by the shock and awe of his time in war.  Well, wouldn’t ya know it, teens start getting picked off one by one with merciless precision, which leads, yup, to Garth being the prime suspect…or is he?

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, as previously stated, looks pretty sensational for a first feature from Levine.  Opening sections of the film – before the madness and carnage begins – almost have a sort of Malick-ian like poise and naturalistic beauty to them (rare for a horror thriller) and then the film deglams itself to its nightmarishly scruffy visual sheen as the body count rises.  Complimenting the film’s imagery are the actors, and Levine certainly knows how to garner lived-in performances from his stars that are all atypically more refined and nuanced as far as these types of films are concerned.  To watch this film during its first 30 or so minutes you’d be hard pressed to think that it would morph into a savage minded splattergorium later on.

Alas, many issues beset the film, namely the character of Mandy Lane herself.  It grows increasingly hard to empathize with her as a character when, well, she’s never fully well realized as a three dimensional character.  Despite superficially being an endlessly gorgeous young woman that seems to take polite umbrage to multiple young men trying to have their way with her, there is not much more to her beyond this angle.  Mandy remains a curiously abstract entity in a film that’s partially named after her.  Who is this woman?  Where did she come from?  What’s her history?  What does she feel and think?  None of these questions are satisfactorily answered, which makes it a chore to invest in her and her situation.  Her friends in the film fare no better.  I felt remarkably little for them as they were being served up to the slaughter as the film went on.

Also, for a film that, I think, is trying to circumvent certain horror film clichés and conventions, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE definitely falls victim to many of them (like, for example, how so many of the young couples decide to venture off into the dark all alone when strange things are afoot on the ranch).  The film also generates little, if any, semblance of deeply rooted suspense.  It’s also, quite frankly, not really as frightening of a visceral experience as it should have been.  Then there is the film’s would-be shocking twist ending, which comes off not only as a bit head-shakingly preposterous, but is also one that the film never really earns.  Now, the real identity of the actual killer is tipped off much earlier (and anyone that understands the Law of Economy of Characters will be able to spot the culprit far ahead of the characters in the film), but then the film adds another layer of reveals that just don't work.  ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE thinks it’s smarter than it actually is, which is to its discredit.

Ultimately, I think that I would find a documentary about the making of this film and its troubled release history to be more compelling than the actual film itself again.  Jonathon Levine has thankfully emerged from ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE relatively unscarred (his subsequent films are terrific, especially WARM BODIES from earlier this year, a film that legitimately did something wholly innovative with the zombie/survival genre).  There's much to appreciate in Levine’s first film here, and I can certainly appreciate what he was trying to accomplish.  Yet, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE suffers from a semi-week execution of its ideas.  It’s starts off with a promise of being an introspective and intriguing dissection of amorous teen lust and obsession, but then it just mournfully grinds itself down to the same level of so many other forgettable slasher films. 

  H O M E