All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is an aggressive, spiteful little film sure to divide critics and audiences alike. While the film is fully aware of its own conventions and adheres to them for purpose of didactic, it stumbles from faulty characterizations not fully realized by the subversive, and oddly predictable, denouement.
Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is a paradigm of chastity and virtue. She is the innocent girl unaware of her own beauty that all the boys (and even some girls) want. Scenes in the locker room, athletic field, and nighttime pool party introduce us to Mandy Lane and the overt propositioning from dime-a-dozen jock Dylan (Adam Powell) symbolizing the school wide lust the boys have for the young Laurie Strode like figure. Coerced by another less popular paramour of Mandy; Emmet (Michael Welch), Dylan attempts to jump into the pool from the roof of his house, missing and hitting concrete instead.
Nine months later Mandy is convinced by two girlfriends, typical bitchy bottle-blonde Chloe (Whitley Able) and the insecure follower Marlin (Melissa Price), to go with three boys to the remote family ranch of Red (Aaron Himelstein). The teens occupy their time with illicit drugs, colourful conversations, and casual sex acts, while the elusive good-looking ranch hand Garth (Anson Mount) stays in a cabin nearby. When gunshots are heard in the night things get a little scary for the vapid teens as they struggle to make it through to the morning alive.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a deliberately crafted, self reflective horror movie penned by someone clearly fluent in film theory. It's not a shock that a teen horror movie would have such cookie cutter characters, but what is surprising is the extent to which their stereotypes are developed. A good half hour of the film is dedicated to introducing us to these teens and their shenanigans before the morality killings begin, or are even alluded to. No effort is made to get sympathy or compassion from the audience for these vulgar teens. The setup is not dissimilar to a Friday the 13th film, but with clearer intentions, and more theory behind each moral cipher.
While the clichéd characterizations work for the secondary characters, there is a rough patch surrounding Mandy Lane herself. All the boys love Mandy Lane, which can be understood from a physical and theoretical standpoint however, her character is completely undeveloped. Aside from not having sex or doing drugs like the other girls, there is little going on with her, which becomes a problem later on in the film. It is difficult to determine if the intention was to show that such a bland, emotionless girl shouldn't be coveted thus reinforcing the outcome of the film, or if the unexplained character arcs are simply a nod to cinematic expectations and the roles of women in horror cinema. Either way, there is a gap here that is likely to divide audiences who either embrace the twist, or want to dismiss it.
The film itself is really quite nasty. The teens regularly insult each other, call each other fat, discuss pubic grooming habits, tell each other to fellate horses, casually drop the "C" word, snort cocaine, engage indiscriminately in sex acts, and genuinely seem to care very little about each other. Oddly enough this works well for the tone of the film, but may turn some audience members away from fully engaging themselves. The violence is also particularly gratuitous at moments. Not Hostel/Saw gratuitous, but there is enough to elicit a response.
Direction from newcomer Jonathan Levine isn't particularly memorable. While he succeeds in maintaining a tone, and the film succeeds in being strangely linear and matter-of-fact, the direction is relatively homogenous and adds little to the highly theoretical screenplay. There is a lack of tension throughout sequences that are intended to be tense, and the hippie-dippie drug/music montages do little to inspire confidence in the viewer.
Mandy Lane will likely struggle to find an audience willing to embrace its concepts and aggressive communication style. The movie is a welcome addition to the often misguided horror genre despite its divisiveness. It should develop a cult following and find a home in horror cinema textbooks.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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