The Scoop: 2006 R, directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Amber Heard, Anson Mount, and Whitney Able
Tagline: There’s something about Mandy all the boys love.
Kyle’s Rating: Another year, another non-release of an incredible slasher movie
Kyle’s Review: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is the only film I can think of that I recommend people blatantly and enthusiastically illegally download online so that it can reach the wide audience it deserves; for all other films I cloak my advice in metaphor and theatrical winks just to protect myself from criminal prosecution. I wish such a move were unnecessary, but the staggeringly stupid ‘thought processes’ which have conspired to keep this film from any kind of domestic release since it was ready to go in 2006 (!) demand a grass roots call for action. Or at least a well-intentioned yet legally vague one: I’m not saying you should download it or anything else, I’m just saying you should see this movie no matter what it takes . . . *wink*
The danger here, beyond involving myself in a pirating conspiracy, is in building up ATBLML as a transcendent slasher film. One that reinvents the genre, or crosses into the realm of ‘true drama,’ or demands categorization as a ‘horror classic.’ I’m not sure it even flirts with accomplishing any of those tasks, nor would it reap Paranormal Activity-like box office dividends. Mandy Lane distinguishes itself by being a smart and nuanced slasher film; it is a work Leslie Vernon would both enjoy and take notes on. As certain films can be seen as perfect representatives of their genres (Sleepless in Seattle for romantic comedies, The Maltese Falcon for noirish private detective stories, Airplane! for spoof comedy, etc.), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane makes a strong case for being a defining slasher movie.
Although even I, a devoted horror fan, recognize the faint praise of championing any film as ascendent in such a flawed sub-genre as slasher movies. Thank goodness you’re reading Mutant Reviewers from Hell: you’re probably right there with me in understanding the complexities of adoring what an ‘average moviegoer’ would refer to as “Total crap.” Isn’t there a wonderful freedom in being aware of and willfully defying common conventions? For art’s sake, we must defy augury!
As you should intuit from the title, the titular Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) finds herself the object of much love from her male high school classmates; love with a rather obvious ulterior motive. By quirk of genetics Mandy seemingly blossomed from nondescript wallflower to extreme hottie over the course of a summer. Coming back to school, content to hang out with longtime friend-in-outcastedness Emmet (Michael Welch), Mandy instead finds herself on the precipice of becoming a Mean Girl, or perhaps a Heather. Recognizing that her newfound popularity will last only as long as her virginity, Mandy agrees to attend a cool kids’ pool party but only if Emmet is also invited, much to the chagrin of the cool kids and Emmet. After some poolside posturing and showboating, Emmet and a hard-up-for-Mandy jock douchebag end up on the roof above the pool, Emmet uses some not-so-subtle manipulation to convince the jock that Mandy would be suitably impressed by a really big cannonball, and the jock’s subsequent attempt to make a big splash is 99% successful at impressing everyone. Sadly, his 1% of failure involves his head missing the soft pool but hitting hard cement, and flashing past most of the school year finds Emmet completely outcast and Mandy full ensconced in the fickle politics of high school popularity. Virginity intact and no longer the sole reason for Mandy’s social dominance (at least among the gals), Mandy and a small group of her new ‘friends’ head to a remote ranch house for some weekend fun. Unbeknownst to Mandy, every guy on the trip is thinking this will finally be the time to deflower her; unbeknownst to the guys, there’s someone thinking this will be the time to decease all of them. All the boys may love Mandy Lane, but a few are going to die for her.
Rote as my little plot summary may sound, the joys of Mandy Lane are found in the rich details and thoughtful tone. Credit director Levine for finding space for the human drama that nearly every prior slasher film ignored in favor for an extra kill scene. The performances and writing are not award-worthy, but they are full and layered and therefore rather genre-busting. Far from being the sort of teenage stereotypes whose deaths are predictable and rooted for, the ‘bad’ kids are sketched in very believable ways. There is no cartoon evil or sex comedy foolishness driving any of the characters, and even the meanest mean girl and the bro-est sex-obsessed bro dude have a couple moments that paint them as real people, or at least as real as high school kids can be. Future Friday the 13th sequels and the like should take note: death scenes are a lot more effective when the dying kids have character, instead of just being characters.
Amber Heard is a strange sort of modern actress; she seems to have had the major push to make her a Hollywood Big Gun (Pineapple Express, Never Back Down, the requisite totally awesome mostly nuder performance in The Informers, and plenty of magazine coverage) without anyone really caring. Others have compared her trajectory to that of Gretchen ‘Where is she now’ Mol, and considering Heard’s memorable cameo in Zombieland where 99 out of 100 viewers had no idea it was her (she’s the neighbor 406 who nearly eats Columbus on his own couch) it’s tempting to agree, though her full handful of upcoming films speaks at least one more year to make her mark. Her role as Mandy Lane, if any wide audience gets to see it, would surely add quite a bit of shine to her star. Beautiful and opaque, Heard’s Mandy Lane is far too knowing to allow any of idiots frothing for her to get what they want, but seems understandably conflicted about how she feels about her superficially-derived popularity. As the center around which all the drama and horror revolve, she is the perfect heroine, who seems strong enough to be the ‘Final Girl’ in any usual slasher movie but seems doomed with her life and her virtue simultaneously in danger. Michael Welch (Emmet) and Anson Mount (Garth) are standouts as the two guys who don’t quite belong in Mandy’s new world, being a former best friend and older property manager at the ranch, seeing Mandy interact with old acquaintances and new speak to how formidable she is mind as well as body.
But as I said, Levine gives everything a flourish that forces you to consider the motives behind every action, the emotions beneath ever surface. The cast across the board adeptly sketches a group of kids that would probably end the weekend having learned a couple important life lessons if it weren’t for the killer mucking things up. Refreshingly, the killer’s identity is not a mystery for long, allowing for personal confrontations instead of awkwardly-angled scenes where victims see the face of their killer but the audience remains dumb. There isn’t much in the way of unnecessary moralizing or ultimate messages, either. By making the relationships between the characters the focus, and not the (cooly-stylized) murder scenes, you are allowed to contemplate how things could come to this, and how the cold mercenary politics of high school truly seem the stuff of life and death sometimes.
Perhaps that, as much as the stripped-down brutality of the killer, is what keeps All the Boys Love Mandy Lane from any kind of significant release, especially in the United States. Though school violence seems to persist for reasons other than the influence of media, someone in charge might believe to release this film is to unleash the idea of cathartic revenge in the minds of so many simmering outcasts. I don’t think Mandy Lane is going to give anyone any murderous ideas, and I don’t think it belongs on any banned film list. It is simply a cream-of-the-crop slasher movie, where you already know what you’re going to get from it and are therefore surprised by its dramatic character. You’ll love Mandy Lane as well when (and if) you see it, though you’ll benefit from knowing it’s best to love her from a distance, lest a certain someone think you love her a little too much and decide to do something about it . . .
- Chloe’s hairstyle changes several times during her topless scene.
- The ranch house in the film used to belong to Hilary Duff’s family. Apparently, memorabilia from Duff’s film Casper Meets Wendy was found by the crew.
- The ranch house was apparently a source of annoyance and intrigue during the shoot. Fire ants swarmed all over the grounds and proved to be a constant nuisance. Local legend held that the house was where John Wilkes Booth hid out to avoid capture for his assassination of Abraham Lincoln; after serving as caretaker for the property for a time, Booth revealed his true identity to the owners on his deathbed. Booth is supposedly buried next to the oak tree Mandy Lane passes when she walks to see Garth. On the same grounds is a a cemetery with over 60 graves dating back to the 1800’s, all from a town that no longer exists. A little girl died in an upstairs bedroom in the past and is said to haunt the house: crew claimed a little girl in a white dress was seen several times during night shoots, despite no children ever being on-set.
Marlin: (shows off new belly button piercing) Tasty, huh?
Chloe: Marline, don’t get me wrong, but you are all pudge. That is thing is going to get lost in the folds.
Marline: I’m not fat.
Marlin: (cutting Ritalin for the girls to snort) Thanks god for little brothers with ADD.
Chloe: Yeah, how’s that working out for him? Has his behavior improved?
Marlin: I know mine has.
Chloe: Dammit, I am trying to **** your best friend here. Give me a little cooperation, please!
Bird: You know we are all trying to get you, right?
Mandy Lane: Get me?
Bird: Get with you . . . here’s the deal: I’m not like the other guys . . .
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