All The Boys Love Mandy Lane

Rating 3½

Directed by Jonathan Levine

Written by Jacob Forman

Starring Amber Heard, Aaron Himelstein, Michael Welch, Whitney Able, Melissa Price, Luke Grimes, Edwin Hodge and Anson Mount

Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is pretty, popular, athletic and unobtainable. She becomes the obsession of the boys around her in high school, each one wanting to be the first to “get with her”. Following an incident at a pool party, she becomes estranged from her best friend Emmet (Michael Welch) and at the end of junior year she accepts an offer to go to the ranch of the parents of one of her new friends, Red (Aaron Himelstein). His parents are away and his friends plan a weekend of drinking, getting stoned and, so some of them imagine, having sex. For Red, Jake (Luke Grimes) and Bird (Edwin Hodge), the goal is to find out which one of them can “get with” Mandy first.

As the alcohol flows and more drugs are consumed, petty insecurities and rivalries bubble to the surface. The friends bicker, becoming divided when Jake storms out of the house and is followed by Marlin (Melissa Price), after she has argued with Chloe (Whitney Able). When Jake later disappears out into the fields brandishing a shotgun, and shots are then heard, Garth (Anson Mount), the farm hand, threatens to call Red’s parents and tells the others the party is over. However, a night of terror has already been put into motion.

‘All The Boys Love Mandy Lane’ was made in 2006 on a budget of just $750,000. It was first screened at the Toronto Film Festival in September of that year and was then shown at several other film festivals. However, it was not given a theatrical release and the producers eventually sold the rights to the film. It finally received a limited theatrical run in the UK in February 2008, but has never been released into cinemas in the US.

Critical opinion about the film is divided. 22 reviews collected at Rotten Tomatoes result in a 55% fresh rating. The negative reviews are of particular interest, because they are so negative and seem to brush aside what is, I would have thought, obviously the main intention of the film, to subvert the genre and encourage the audience to make snaps judgements that we must then confront and question later on.

Dan Jolin, writing in Empire magazine, calls it, “Jonathan Levine’s drab emo twist on the slasher, which comes up with the stunning innovation of making the most obvious candidate the surprise killer and revealing who it is only half-way through.” He goes on to inform us, “Levine forces us to spend time with them sodding about before Mr Killer makes his move. And the murders aren’t even inventive, so you can’t even enjoy the victims’ expiration.”

The reviews suggest that reaction to the film is dependent on what each one of us watching chooses to read into it. Taken simply as a bog-standard slasher movie, and nothing more, it would seem to elicit disappointment and bad reviews. However, if it is viewed as homage to and a subverting of the genre, the reaction is quite different.

Watching a bunch of bickering teenagers getting drunk, getting stoned and obsessing about sex does have a limited appeal and the film treads a very fine line here. A great deal of the 90 minutes running time is taken up with this. At times there is also a tendency towards showing off, as if the director wants us to know just how knowledgeable he is about his chosen genre. So we get very obvious visual nods to 1980s slasher movies and to 1970s films like ‘The Last House On The Left’. It is, though, all done extremely well.

The characters are not, in the main, particularly likeable, but then the film starts to dig a little deeper. Chloe, for example, is so insecure that she uses magnetic letters on the fridge door to spell out the message “Chloe is hot”. She bolsters her lack of self-confidence by telling Marlin she is fat, something that is clearly a very long way from the truth. She makes fun of Jake, belittling the size of his penis (so to speak), but she is upset sufficiently by an earlier comment by Marlin to disappear into the bathroom to trim back her pubic hair. She uses her looks and sexuality as a weapon, but at the same time she is a whirlpool of insecurities for exactly the same reason.

I made a guess very early on about what was likely to happen and I was not far off what actually does unfold. Once we were out on the ranch it did not take much effort to guess the identity of the killer before it was revealed to us (despite the comment made by Dan Jolin in his review, I do not believe it was intended to be a surprise) – and from there it was easy to second-guess the twists that followed. However, I was still quite surprised by my reaction to the eventual inverting of the judgements the film had initially encouraged me to make.

I watched this film the evening after watching ‘Boogeyman 2’ and not long after ‘I’m Not There’. I found myself comparing the three films. ‘Boogeyman 2’ is a cheap run-of-the-mill direct-to-DVD horror film that increasingly offers little more than buckets of offal, fake blood and tedious gore. This adds nothing to the film and becomes very boring, very quickly. ‘All The Boys Love Mandy Lane’ has its fair share of brutal and unpleasant violence, but it is not the silly “guts pouring out of the victim’s stomach” type gore served up in ‘Boogeyman 2’. Some of it does go a little bit over the top and, as a consequence, loses its impact, but it’s more real.

The film does play around with its genre and is an exercise in quite studied filmmaking, but it doesn’t slip into the intellectual pretentiousness that seems to drive ‘I’m Not There’, a film that constantly screams at us, “Look at how clever I am!” Both films do share a commonality. ‘I’m Not There’ only works if the viewer has an extensive knowledge of the life and work of its subject matter, Bob Dylan. ‘All The Boys Love Mandy Lane’ is only entirely successful if the viewer has an extensive knowledge of slasher movies and, more to the point, the earlier films that first gave rise to the genre.

I watched ‘All The Boys Love Mandy Lane’ following a recommendation from a friend. I am glad I listened, because I thought it was an excellent film. I was inclined to give it a “4” rating, but reduced this slightly simply because I was able to guess where the film was headed, which I don’t think is something in its favour. It is, perhaps, not quite as clever as it would like to think it is. Also, I don’t know how well it would stand up to a second viewing, or if my opinion of it would remain so high. That is something for the future.

The director Jonathan Levine has subsequently made ‘The Wackness’, a film that has an impressive 69% fresh rating from 109 reviews collected at Rotten Tomatoes. Both Michael Welch and Aaron Himelstein were previously amongst the regular cast of ‘Joan of Arcadia’, a television series I like very much.

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