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Amber Heard has definitely made a name for herself in the
horror genre, with her latest entry being John Carpenter’s THE WARD, which
opened on Friday. Her first fright flick was Jonathan Levine’s ALL THE BOYS LOVE
MANDY LANE, which remains, to this day, unreleased in the States. Here’s Michael Gingold’s
Not all of them, unfortunately. Which is disappointing,
because ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE rode a tidal wave of praise after its
debut at the Toronto Film Festival several years ago (though it remains
commercially unreleased in America). I could give you links to dozens of
reviews proclaiming it to be a reinvention of the teen slasher film, one that
takes a penetrating look at the social proclivities of the modern high-school
student while delivering a series of subversive shocks to the system. But I’ve
been to two screenings of ALL THE BOYS, and I just don’t see it.
What debuting director Jonathan Levine (who far more
effectively dissected youthful angst in his second feature, THE WACKNESS) and
scripter Jacob Forman have delivered here doesn’t so much undercut
youth-stalker tropes as dress them up in the Emperor’s New Clothes of modern
cinematic “style”: flash frames, jump cuts, varying film stocks, lens flares
and ironic use of vintage pop songs. Underneath it all is a very familiar tale
of a group of teenagers who travel out to an isolated location, where sex and
drugs are discussed and indulged in before a sadistic killer begins laying
waste to them with assorted weapons.
In the midst of it all is Mandy Lane herself (Amber Heard),
a blonde beauty introduced as the center of considerable male attention at her
Texas school. But this good-hearted gal remains unaffected by the leering and
propositions, preferring the male company of platonic friend Emmet (Michael
Welch). In an early pool-party sequence, the drunken young host, tacitly
encouraged by Emmet, tries to impress Mandy by jumping from his house’s roof
into the swimming pool. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite make it, resulting in
an offscreen date with the concrete accompanied by one of the more unpleasant
sound FX to be heard in recent features. This is certainly an
attention-grabbing opening; too bad it has little to do with the action that
The story then leaps forward about a school year as Mandy,
who has understandably become rather alienated from Emmet, accepts an offer to
join several classmates on a weekend getaway to a remote ranch house while its
owners, the parents of fellow student Red (Aaron Himelstein), are away.
Needless to say, two other guys, Jake (Luke Grimes) and Bird (Edwin Hodge), are
happy to have the opportunity to try for some alone time with Mandy, even as
two other girls, Chloe (Whitley Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price), come along as
well. Trying to keep a lid on the bad behavior is ranch hand Garth (Anson
Mount), but nothing can keep the male hormones from surging in Mandy’s
presence. Love has nothing to do with it; all the boys really want is to get in
Mandy’s pants, which means that the title has more satiric edge than anything
else in the movie.
The youthful performers are all good, and their dialogue and
interactions generally play convincingly. But there’s nothing to their behavior
that hasn’t been seen before in numerous past teen pics: the guys are horndogs,
the girls are catty and manipulative and none of them really do much, to the
point where even one of them comments on how bored he is at a certain point.
(Ennui is a hard thing to capture on screen without it bleeding into the
audience.) Aside from Mandy, none of this group are especially likable either,
which means that the terror is dissipated even as they start falling prey to
the mysterious someone skulking around the house and fields.
Actually, he’s only mysterious for about half the movie; as
if in acknowledgment of how obvious it is anyway, the killer’s identity is
revealed after the first couple of murders. That leaves little to do but wait
for the next in the series of slayings, a couple of which give good, momentary
cringe but don’t have much lasting impact. There’s the occasional unsubtle stab
at tying the violence in to the victims’ hedonistic behavior—a girl who goes
down on a guy is subsequently forced to deep-throat a shotgun—before the movie
arrives at a twist ending that has a lot less to do with plausibly paying off
the characters’ established psychology than it does with throwing one more
curveball at the audience.
The good intentions of all involved are obvious, and it’s clear
Levine is trying hard behind the camera, but ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE
ultimately has little fresh to say about either the slasher genre or youth
violence. Given some of what happens on screen, it’s rather ironic that the
film itself was seduced and abandoned by The Weinstein Company; it then wound
up at Senator Entertainment, which has since gone out of business. Once the
film eventually comes out, it will at the very least serve as a retroactive
signpost of better things to come for its director and lead actress.
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