Directed by: Jonathan Levine.
Written by: Jacob Forman.
Starring: Amber Heard (Mandy Lane), Anson Mount (Garth), Whitney Able (Chloe), Michael Welch (Emmet), Edwin Hodge (Bird), Aaron Himelstein (Red), Luke Grimes (Jake), Melissa Price (Marlin), Adam Powell (Dylan).
The story goes that Harvey Weinstein bought All the Boys Love Mandy Lane when it became a buzzy Midnight Madness selection at TIFF all the back in 2006. He thought that his brother Bob could release the film through their genre division – Dimension. The only problem is that Bob didn’t really like the movie – it got moved around the schedule multiple times – came out pretty much everywhere else in the world (including DVD releases) except for North America. Why it’s getting released now, I have no idea – except, I guess it makes sense to, finally, try and make some of the money back on their investment. I remember hearing about the film at TIFF all the way in 2006 – and thinking it sounded interesting – so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is not the horror equivalent of Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret – a long delayed masterwork by a studio who didn’t know what they had. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane left me wanting a lot more.
All the boys in her high school do in fact love Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) – and on a purely physical level, it’s easy to see why. She’s gorgeous, and the fact that she’s an “infamous virgin” only makes her more sought after. Apparently, Mandy was pretty much a wallflower until junior year, when she showed up looking smoking hot – I don’t really buy that she got that much hotter over the course of a summer, but whatever. Soon, she has pretty much dropped her loser friend Emmet (Michael Welch) – to hang out with the cool kids. All the boys want to be the one who deflowers her – one idiot even kills himself at a house party trying to impress her.
Most of the action of the movie takes place at the ranch of one of the cool kids who invites Mandy, alongside some other kids up for the weekend. Everyone is looking forward to a weekend of debauchery – drinking, drugs and sex – and that is pretty much what they get. Until, of course, the kids start being killed in gruesome ways by someone in a hoodie. Could it be Garth (Anson Mount) – the handsome ranch hand – or is it an outsider, or more chillingly, one of the kids themselves. The movie takes a painfully long time to reveal its secrets – and even features a “shocking twist ending” which if you’re like me, you’ll probably see coming from the outset.
Spoiler Warning: I’ll try not to spoil the movie below, but unfortunately, I pretty much have to at least hint what the movie has in store. You’ve been warned.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is half of a good idea, that the screenplay by Jacob Forman doesn’t quite follow through on. One of the clichés of the horror genre has always been the “virgin girl”, who survives until the end, and is the one who confronts the killer – and ends up walking away safely - while all of her slutty, alcoholic drugged out pay the price for their transgressions. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane decides to take that cliché, and twist it in the hopes of coming up with something new. It’s a good idea, but in this movie it doesn’t quite work. Like Joe Swanberg’s recent Drinking Buddies, which upended one cliché of the romantic comedy genre, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane doesn’t really have anything new to add to the genre except flipping the one cliché around. So like Drinking Buddies, it’s refreshing to see a movie that tries something different – but disappointing that the filmmakers didn’t come up with something more to do in place of the cliché they are upending. So both movies kind of go sideways instead leading somewhere satisfying. It’s an even bigger problem for All the Boys Love Mandy Lane than it was for Drinking Buddies, because by the time they get around to upending the cliché, the movie is just about over – and we are left with too many nagging, unanswered questions – and not the kind of ambiguous ones that can be intriguing, but instead the kind that feel like no one involved in making the movie really though through.
The movie itself isn’t horrible – it’s well made by director Jonathan Levine (it’s easy to see why he’s made three better films – The Wackness, 50/50 and Warm Bodies – since) and Heard is effective for most of her scenes – until the screenplay lets her down at the end. And yes, there’s a lot of blood for horror fans out there.
Still, it remains a fairly big disappointment for me, because there is so much promise in the premise – in the ideas it raises, that the movie never really follows through on. The film reminded me of Kate Asleton’s Black Rock from earlier this year – another film that tried to confront the misogyny implicit in so many horror films that ended up not quite being able to deliver on its promise.