All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Dir. Jonathan Levine

A group of teenaged friends head off to a backwoods holiday ranch to party, with devastating and splashy consequences, as they are picked off one by one by a mysterious killer. Sound familiar? Well, that's coz it is. But! Though its title sounds more like a rom-com, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a pretty effective slasher movie, with more than a few nods to its Friday the 13th influences.

A lengthy, languid opening evokes memories of The Virgin Suicides, with a dreamy soundtrack, sun-kissed photography and a hint of tantalizingly forbidden sexual awakening. Connotations of soon to be lost innocence, idyllic memories of highschool sweet-hearts and burgeoning romance come thick and fast as teens frolick in slow motion by swimming pools, and smoke joints in playing fields. The stifling atmosphere of hormonally charged sexual exploration is explicitly conveyed and hangs thick in the air, as is the manipulative nature, pettiness and hurtful interactions most teenagers encounter in high school. It's all here in the opening moments.

The film’s strength lies in its exploration of this facet of the underbelly of teenaged, high school life:  alternative agendas and manipulative backstabbing – perfectly highlighted in the moment when two young men are daring each other to jump off a roof into a pool below to impress their peers. The characters are as broadly drawn as their 80s slasher film counterparts, and they make as many clichéd decisions as nearly every other 80s slasher film teen. Wandering off into the dark to investigate a strange noise, anyone? You guys this isn't funny anymore.

The camera seems as enraptured by Mandy Lane as her peers are, and demonstrating a blatant 'male gaze', indulges in, well, gazing at her. As the titular character, Amber Heard delivers a convincing performance as a young woman beginning to notice the attention she receives from her classmates.

Events soon veer into blatant slasher territory as Mandy is invited to stay at the isolated family ranch of flaky stoner Red. They are joined by two other couples who can’t seem to decide who they want to ‘get with.’ However, it soon becomes apparent that they are not alone. There is also a sex-crazed psycho stalking the surrounding countryside who also takes quite a shine to Mandy and will do anything to get her alone. Except that after the first two uninspired and unsurprising deaths, director Levine reveals the, again rather unsurprising, identity of the killer. This guy is certainly no Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers though. While this means we don’t have to sit through the usual deranged modus-operandi and obligatory self-pitying histrionics of the psycho and how ‘Mandy never paid him any attention so the only way he could make her love him was by killing her friends’, what we get instead is a further twist that may not surprise some but certainly highlights again the underlying theme of manipulation and obsession. This premature unveiling of the killer also doesn’t detract from the carefully built-up tension, and events still whisk along at a brisk pace. Quite frankly though, no one will be fooled by the ranch-hand red herring.

Despite a vast array of clichés, the film still manages to remain quite fresh and the creepy atmosphere is perfectly conjured as the camera prowls around the vast house, follows characters out into the darkness of the surrounding countryside, and sneaks peeks out of windows, revealing half-glimpsed figures strolling towards the house. The violent dispatching of various characters by the killer is quite often shocking and raw, and more than a little stylised; one death in particular harks back to Dario Argentoesque eye-violation, blunt and sadistic in its execution. In the harsh light of the following morning the tension is just as thick and the violence more brutal.

Mandy Lane wears its influences on its blood-soaked sleeves, from the rather fitting title-card that harks back to the likes of My Bloody Valentine, to the sun-baked landscapes of The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre, albeit the remake, with its sweaty/dirty/sexy glossiness complete with sunspots on the camera lens. This is a sincere love letter to 80s slasher films and lacks any sort of self-awareness or irony. Any humour in the script comes from the dialogue as characters verbally spar with each other over everything from penis size, to who should go ‘check out the generator.’ Remind me again why these people are friends? The teen characters are only interested in themselves and their desires.

While there is a spate of early-slasher revival with the likes of The Hills Have Eyes remake, Switchblade Romance and Wolf Creek, and the varying-in-quality remakes of Prom Night and April Fool’s Day, Mandy Lane has a sexy edge and sly wit that makes it pretty enjoyable.


To Mr. James Gracy

I have just read two of your posts. I liked the energetic language you use. I would like to revisit for reading more from you.

If you like short stories and paintings, then a short visit to my blogs would be a good idea.

Naval Langa
James Gracey said…
Thanks for your kind words Naval - and welcome to my blog! I look forward to visiting yours soon and having a look at some of your writing. hope you are well.
many thanks and best wishes
: said…
I'm looking forward to checking this one out soon. I've heard nothing but great things about it for the past couple of years . . . .

James Gracey said…
Yes, this one seems to have really struck a cord with US audiences since it FINALLY got a release. I haven't seen it since I wrote this review back in 2008, but I remember it being pretty solid.

Thanks for swinging by. :)

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