Tuesday, October 1, 2013

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2013)
Dir. Jonathan Levine

2.5 out of 5

The lack of fanfare for the long-delayed teen slasher flick All the Boys Love Mandy Lane seems unfair, given its long, arduous journey to the big screen.  Completed in 2006, the movie has languished in distribution limbo since then, appearing only at a handful of film festivals and on lists of notoriously unreleased films.  The project's original distributor, The Weinstein Company, unceremoniously dropped the film only to re-acquire it years later when a second distributor went belly up without succeeding in getting Mandy Lane into theaters.  It's exactly the type of backstory from which cult classics - or total disasters - are born.

It turns out that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is neither of those, exactly.  A caustic rejoinder to years of aspirational high school movies in which the misfits yearn to be beautiful and popular, Mandy Lane explores the unsettling predatory aspects of the teenage dream, laying all its cards on the table in a grisly opening party scene where a boorish jock misjudges a leap from a rooftop into a pool, plummeting to his death.  It's an ill-advised attempt to impress Mandy (Amber Heard), a sweet-natured "good girl" whose swan-like physical transformation inspires her male classmates' aggressive sexual advances.  Her newfound social status is simultaneously unsettling and exhilarating, even at it alienates her former best friend, Emmet (Michael Welch), who takes the rap for egging on the drunken party jumper.

In barely 10 minutes of screentime, director Jonathan Levine (in what was to be his debut feature) manages to create a casually horrifying and yet still plausible scenario before moving the action to a remote ranch, where Mandy and her new popular friends celebrate the end of junior year by jockeying for each other's attention.  When an unseen killer starts picking off the revelers one by one, the movie becomes an exercise in how to construct scares with slow-burning suspense instead of gruesome, shocking violence, all in an attempt to prove...well, I'm not exactly sure.  Between the arresting opening and the fevered climax, there's not much "there" there beyond a technically proficient horror film with a half-developed satirical slant.  It feels like the leftovers of a much more ambitious feminist critique of the horror genre, as we're meant to experience Mandy's discomfort while she repels the horny advances of would-be Lotharios and the machinations of a psycho killer.  

Mandy is given plenty of agency as the film progresses, but it carries a muddled message on the plight of young, nubile eye candy in horror films.  In the end, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is hardly a game-changing statement, and it may be an ultimately regressive one.  The female characters' clunky, overwritten zingers - one girl criticizes another's intimate grooming habits, quipping “It’s like Sherwood Forest down there" - certainly don't help.  The touch of the man who would go on to direct funny, sensitive gems like The Wackness and 50/50 is almost invisible here, leaning on a slapdash visual style that's a cross between an intimate indie drama and a CBS crime procedural on whippets.  Heard doesn't display any hidden talents in a performance that predates her career arc as a minor sex symbol without a signature role; the standout player here is Anson Mount - currently the lead in the AMC drama Hell on Wheels - as a laconic shotgun-toting ranch hand/obvious suspect.  Given the subsequent trajectories of its stars and its director in addition to its long stint in movie purgatory, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane fittingly registers as a footnote, even by the low standards of B-grade slasher flicks.

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