It is no secret that I’ve been tracking ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE for years now. Literally years. On multiple occasions I’ve lambasted Senator International for withholding the film from the US (it has not only played internationally, but is available elsewhere at retail before ever seeing a single non-festival screen here) after raves at Toronto back in ’06. To their credit they did snap the picture up after a now defunct Dimension Films dropped it (Fuck the Weinsteins). However, once again I am resigned to trawling the dark corners of the now permaconnected globe in search of booty. Sweet, supple teenage slasher revivalist booty.
If the rather self explanatory title does not suffice, Jonathan Levine’s feature debut is about a high school gal named Mandy Lane, played by Amber Heard, who all the boys want a virginal crack at. After much poking and prodding (and an opening party scene of exquisite spine wobbling), Mandy heads out to a rich kid’s arid flatland ranch for the kind of weekend only rich high schoolers have. Booze, sex and death! Someone at the ranch begins to hedge their hymen breaking bets by offing the competition one by one.
I’ll admit, by the time the credits rolled and Forman’s script had tipped its last hand, my smitten status with MANDY LANE had wavered. BUT, and this is a crucial, all-caps BUT, it has since grown on me. Jonathan Levine, more recognizable for buzzed sophomore film THE WACKNESS, has crafted what I am comfortable calling the most successful slasher of the millennium. High praise, I know, but remember it is in an arena whose competition I feel has been anorexic at best.
The film looks great, has a gorgeous lead and strapping side cast. The kills are fresh and inventive where all other sub-genre cohorts of late have been brooding, dumb brute force ‘roid fests. The only thing that held me back from giving it a ringing endorsement from the get go is the film’s last act. I hate saying that because now you, gorgeous and strapping you, are going to expect some stupid HAUTE TENSION-esque twist of nonsense. There isn’t (or is there? Dun, dun, dun). The finale is, I feel, a remarkable emulation of ’80s slasher whodunnit ‘top the last hit flick’ movie logic. I’ll leave it at that and move on to the sum of what does and doesn’t work in the rest of the movie.
Forman’s setup isn’t too landmark itself, but at least adheres to the foundation slashers of yesteryear proved themselves upon. Which is to say the whole movie revolves around the obsession of a final girl, the terror that surrounds her and the multiple possible suspects behind it all. Levine knows how to shoot Heard and everything around her to near lustful perfection. I’m not a fan of MTV induced spurts of editing jitters logged on rare occasion throughout the film, but the movie as a unit has a very unique, very love labored look to it. Also, Mandy Lane isn’t all that creative of a character, a regret that fortunately never becomes a problem considering one look from Amber Heard could sell a Virtual Boy to Helen Keller.
As mentioned, the kills are great. No exaggerated gore, no long winded bouts of torture. Just classic moments worthy of recollection down the line. Note: Levine isn’t above throwing in a few jump scares or shadow-dashes. I get why directors keep exploiting such a tactic. It works, it keeps momentum. However, in the year 2008 there is no excusing it as anything other than a crutch gag.
The biggest caveat, of course, is the direction Forman’s script takes. Again, I hate to get into it in a review like this out of fear of shaping expectations, but there is a tangible objective shift between opener and ender. At first I was resistant. I felt such a goal was unnecessary, that the movie was doing fine without any forks in the road, that to employ one was cheap (and, frankly, obvious). However, the more I think about it, the more I approve of it as an update of ’80s enders, laden for the better with contemporary, post-Columbine high school counterparts. ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE has more going for it than the surface first suggests. I apologize if that sounds pretentious, but it is true. While not blowing the lid off anything, the Levine/Forman duo does sport a firmer analytical edge upon which to perhaps smash issues open, exposing their innards unceremoniously for us to digest at leisure.
I stand by calling it the most successful slasher of the millennium, but that does not equate to me considering it one of the most successful horror films of the millennium. Don’t get me wrong, I clearly enjoy the movie and do recommend it with a slight speed. I respect all that went into it, that Levine and Forman let a fresh breeze rustle through a tired template. But at the end of the day I don’t slave for slashers. I enjoy them, I just very rarely lose myself in them. At least ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE is the closest I’ve come to fawning for the knife wielding final girl sub in, well, I honestly don’t know how long.