Written by: Jacob Forman
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, and Whitney Able
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďThere she is boys, Mandy Lane. Untouched, pure. Since the dawn of junior year men have tried to possess her, and to date all have failed. Some have even died in their reckless pursuit of this angel."
At this point, itís expected (if not downright customary) to discuss the circuitous distribution route for All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Jonathan Levineís long-delayed feature debut. After becoming a festival favorite all the way back in 2006, the film promptly languished for yearsóand not just for a few, either. With the film finally arriving on home video last month, letís pause for some perspective: I was 22 when the film premiered in Toronto. I just turned 30. This website wasnít even a thought, America was still stuck in the Bush era, and we didnít even really have Twitter yet. It was a long time ago is what Iím saying.
Anyway, you know how this shit goes: as the film eventually spread from festival to festival and to home video in several countries, its legend grew over the years and became the ultimate cult film in the sense that it was even effectively barred from much of its own target audience. Now that Anchor Bay has finally brought it to DVD and Blu-ray, the handful of us (including yours truly) that held out over the years can finally see what all the fuss is about when it comes to this deceptively conventional slasher.
Remarkably, I never stumbled onto so much as a plot synopsis for the film during all this time, so I was surprised to discover that it really is just that: another slasher movie of the ďgroup of high school teens go to a secluded location and dieĒ variety. Granted, it has more subtext and backstory than most of that type: we open in the midst of another school year, where Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) has started to attract attention from the popular crowd. Still, she hangs out with guy pal Emmet (Michael Welch), who tags along to social events, such as a pool party thatís attracted a number of cool kids. When a dumb jock makes a pass at Mandy, Emmet tricks him into performing a stunt thatís meant to impress the girl; instead, the poor kid ends up dead after smashing his skull on the poolside below.
The incident causes a rift between the two friends, especially Mandy goes onto become even more popular over the next nine months. While sheís still a bit of a shy, reserved outsider, she joins a bunch of kids for a weekend party retreat thatís all sex, drugs, and rock & roll until the kids begin to get picked off by a mysterious psychopath (boy, I wonder if itís Mandyís disaffected, jilted buddy?!). To be fair, the film holds more surprises than the killerís eventual reveal (which actually still feels a little bit too familiar in the wake of Scream), with most of them arriving during the journey towards the climax.
Rather than taking a every page from Scream and crafting a smart-assy, meta-slasher, Levine opts for more straightforward bloodletting. But whatís surprising is just how genuine it feels; sure, it might have all of the typical slasher trappings (obnoxious teens, misogyny, drinking, drugs, etc.), but it feels more authentic here since Levine and screenwriter Jacob Forman acknowledge some of the charactersí vulnerabilities. For example, most slashers might make a joke about a guyís sexual shortcomings and set it up as a punchline (think Crispin ďDead FuckĒ Glover from Friday the 13th Part 4); however, that same exchange here leads to a disturbingly perceptive scene where the offended guy feels forced to reassert his masculinity with his girlfriend.
The ugly exchange ends with him receiving head and refusing to return the favor, a transgression that would (again) usually result in a horrible (but somehow justified and satisfying) demise; well, rest assured, he gets hisóbut so does the poor girl, who arguably meets an even more gruesome fate. There are other, similar little moments that keep Mandy Lane from becoming a cartoon bit of hack and slash like so many of its predecessors. Not that thereís anything wrong with those, but itís nice to see one that attempts to take stock of its characters and their conditions.
Admittedly, Heardís title character fares the best thanks to a vague, tragic backstory involving the death of her parents when she was younger, which explains how she grew up to be such an awkward wallflower, a role thatís unexpected in retrospect given how sheís become a preeminent ass-kicker over the past few years. She handles it well, thoughóof course, itís easy to see how boys would fawn all over her, but Heard channels that sexuality and desirability in a demure manner. Unlike the other girls, sheís just coming into her own and attempting to figure out how to navigate these treacherous social waters, and the filmís compelling portrait of teenage social angst provides much of the dread. At times, Mandy Lane feels less like a slasher and more like a mood piece that reveals the uncomfortable realities of this existence, here taken to its very extreme.
Of course, like other horror films that trod upon similar ground (Carrie, Evilspeak, etc.), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is an unfortunate reflection since those extremes are also based in reality. Given its place in the shadow of Columbine and other school shootings (not to mention our recent preoccupation with bullying and its effects), it perhaps feels more immediate now than it would have back in 2006. While the film eventually relies on twists that feel like junky schlock, one could easily imagine a similar story cropping up in national headlines, and Levineís commitment to staying grounded elevates it above many films of its type.
He also resists succumbing to the usual slasher tone; violence is inevitable but not nearly enjoyable. This isnít the type of slasher that revels in carving up its cast but rather one that doles out vicious, cringe-inducing stuff thatís more savage than delightful. Levine, who has since proven to be a jack-of-all-trades with an eclectic filmography, also harkens back to the 70s grindhouse instead of the 80s slasher scenes. Between the ominous but strangely gorgeous landscape shots and the reserved, punctual violence, he finds a mixture of the macabre and the beautiful thatís reminiscent of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Thatís not bad company, so youíre left wondering just how it could have collected dust for so long, a query thatís easily answered with two words: The Weinsteins, who apparently loved Mandy Lane so much that they kept her to themselves. A perpetual thorn in the side of cinematic decency, the duo quickly (and wisely) snapped the film up, only to sell it off when they got cold feet about horror fare (something tells me weíll be having this same conversation about Livid someday). From there, it encountered various roadblocks before landing in the lap of Anchor BayÖwho finally released it alongside The Weinstein Company via their Radius label. Thatís so Weinstein (but, to be fair, at least they didnít chop up the film and consult Joe Chappelle for reshoots). Anchor Bayís Blu-ray release is nothing extravagant, but the presentationís slick, and Levine provides a feature commentary for this better-late-than-never edition. The film recently debuted on Netflix streaming as well, so a film that was once tough to see is right there at your fingertips, waiting to live up to all that hype at the push of a button. If nothing else, it offers proof that lengthy delays arenít always indicative of quality. Buy it!
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