The Weekly Creepy: Wait, why do ‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’?

26 Jun

 weekly creepy Welcome to the Weekly Creepy. The goal is to help expose you the audience to newer horror/thriller films that might have slipped under your radar. Dedicated to obscure, foreign and indie fare (as well as the glorious world of DTV), The Weekly Creepy will tackle a different pic each week, with reasons why it is or isn’t worth your precious time or money.

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June 25th, 2009–

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The odd history of Jonathan Levine’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a far more  horrifying story than the one within the movie.  After being completed in 2006 and playing various film festivals, the movie sat in limbo for a year or so and then never got theatrical distrubition here in the U.S. Over in Britain and other parts of the world it’s available on dvd, and if you have a region free dvd player you can get it on Amazon. Then, this summer,  a release date of June 18th was announced only to have the distributors pull it again. Amber Heard, who played the titular character, has gone on to become something of a scream queen even though Mandy Lane has yet to officially play over here.  In the time since making ATBLML, director Levine has finished and released another movie, The Wackness, and has about three more in production. If he’s lucky Mandy Lane will stay hidden until he’s got a few more finished pics under his belt and can safely chalk this one up to youthful excess.

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Telling the story of young, virginal beauty Mandy Lane and the scads of high school boys chomping at the bit to deflower her, All the Boys  begins as a reasonable but flat teenage drama and then deports a group of its young characters to the middle of an isolated ranch where a killer picks them off one by one, presumably all for the love of Ms. Lane. Mandy,her friend Chloe and four pot-smoking prospective paramours, along with glowering ranch-hand Garth(Anson Mount) must face off against the mysterious invader if they ever hope to leave the premises.

Ahh, the slasher film. It isn’t quite my cup of tea, but I can still respect and commend an entry if it is done well, with skill and imagination. For instance, back in 2006 there were two other films with the similar premise of clueless teens, isolated environment and rampaging killer that are far superior to Mandy Lane. One was the uproarious and demented Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon that lampooned/homaged the slasher tradition and the Swedish Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt) that employed a wintery setting and gobs and gobs of atmosphere to create the scariest film the genre had seen in years. Both films took the elements of this particular formula and twisted them just enough that the end result amounted to more than girls running away in terror and knives being jammed into bodies. Unfortunately, while it at first seems like it has more on its mind, all Mandy Lane musters are the usual tedious chases and vile misogyny that only takes a break for the film’s gonzo ending.

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I had hope, I really did. The picture looks great. There is a washed out, autumny feel to the cinematography and it gives the movie a sense of foreboding and restless energy, which is appropriate for a tale about horny teenagers. The actors are all about what you would expect, with Amber Heard doing little more than staring out at everyone who gawks at her with big round puppy eyes that seem to have pools of frozen water at their center. She is more or less just an object, like her character, that the movie hangs its icky affections on. Everyone else is just playing a goofy sex-obsessed stoner except for Garth the ranch-hand and Emmet, Mandy’s best guy pal that wouldn’t dream of despoiling her(well maybe he would dream). Either way, clearly the acting doesn’t distinguish anything.

The early going depicts the shallowness and vapidity of the high school existence but it fails to do one very, very important thing; create any character at all that would fly in the face of this. If you see a stereotype here, thats all there is, nothing else. We don’t meet anyone who surprises us(even though the movie thinks it has in the end) and turns out to be a likable human being. And if there are no likable human beings, if there isn’t a character whose very individuality and singularity makes us root for their survival, why are watching then? To see a bunch of dim bulbs get violently slaughtered? Not my idea of entertainment.

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There are few attempts made to give the film some real-life context. Issues of body image, teen sexuality and the objectification of women are all trotted out but the movie doesn’t really understand what it’s dealing with. Based on the way he constructs the picture and layers in the ideas, Jonathan Levine is a very talented guy. I have no doubt he will put all this behind him, and probably already has(I havent seen The Wackness). Many of our finest and most exciting filmmakers, guys like Raimi, Jackson, Spielberg and Cameron all started by swimming in the horror/thriller waters. Its the easiest way to get a picture made; throw in a creepy/sordid element, grab some actors and concentrate on developing your skill. Thats what has happened here. I don’t think anyone saw this as anything more than an exercise; an attempt to see what they were capable of within the time frame of a feature length film.  And unfortunately, that comes across while watching it. Killer stallks guys and gals and we try to guess who it is, even though the murderer’s identity is obvious from the very beginning….until the end.

The very last twist of the film is something you cannot predict unless you purposefully anticipate the movie making a stupid and unreasonable choice. I didn’t care about the events of the film at all, and yet, this final bitactually takes the movie down one more notch. I understand the concept of a ‘twist ending’ but it’s supposed to be the kind of thing that confounds our expectations and reveals the story to be more than we were aware. In order to do this, it has to work with, and be a part of, the tale from the very beginning, hiding in plain sight but purposely camoflauged until the right moment. Mandy Lane has no explanation or even a reasonable answer for what happens at the end, and if thats not enough it keeps going until it achieves the ending it would have had without the twist. Why? A tedious jaunt into excessive style is made worse by an utterly meaningless final act.

Yea, if you never ever manage to see Mandy Lane you will be better off than I.

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7 Responses to “The Weekly Creepy: Wait, why do ‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’?”

  1. Xiphos June 27, 2009 at 2:43 pm #

    This never got released? Really I thought it had. Didn’t AICN pimp this thing?

    • Bartleby June 27, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

      Yes it was pimped on AICN, and it has played many festivals and has been on dvd overseas and in Britain for quite some time; 2007 I believe. But no, it still hasn’t been properly released here in the U.S. And to be quite honest, I don’t think anyone is really missing that much.

  2. James August 11, 2009 at 1:42 am #

    Nah, I disagree. Mandy Lane was a very refreshing take on slasher films. Not revolutionary – it still stuck to a lot of the standard points you see in a slasher movie – but it did its own thing. Think of slasher as death metal: generic in a lot of ways, but it is a very specific discipline. If done wrong it’s generic to a fault, but if done right it is astounding – though a complete metal novice will not be able to tell the difference.

    Mandy Lane has that nuance. From a Slasher perspective I can see multiple things the story and director did to avoid the genre pitfalls while still staying very true to the formula (not including the ending, which merits a discussion on its own). Something similar could be said for the underrated Penny Dreadful and the deliciously over-the-top Laid To Rest or Alex Aja’s by-the-numbers-but-yanked-to-11 Hills Have Eyes remake.

    Or maybe I am just a sucker for the genre. Now if you want to point to a slasher no-one should watch, it’s the Friday the 13th remake.

  3. Bartleby August 29, 2009 at 12:45 am #

    interesting take there James. I guess I see your point. I guess those subtle tweaks weren’t quite enough for me. I also think it depends on what your benchmark for the genre is. I think of films like Halloween, Last House on the Left, etc. As I stated, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a slasher afficiando. I have seen all three of the films you mentioned in the last paragraph, but didn’t like any of them. Of the three, Penny Dreadful came the closest to working. Again, they mostly depended on the viscera and chase elements without really playing up atmosphere or character. It doesn’t have to be deep, but I always think it needs to be effective.

    I go back to the examples I cited: Cold Prey and Behind the Mask. Both worked because they negotiated the conventions of the genre but they were playing the song with their own individual riffs. And whats more, I think those riffs made the source material better for it.

  4. Jarv October 9, 2009 at 12:17 pm #

    Mandy Lane is an arsehole of a film with a superb opening. It’s dimwitted, tedious, predictable and unimaginative.

    The twist is obvious, both of them, and I can’t think of a more disappointing film than this one.

    • James October 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm #

      If you can’t think of a more disappointing film, I have to wonder how many films you have actually seen 🙂 Mandy Lane is certainly not THAT bad!

  5. Jarv October 13, 2009 at 8:01 am #

    Heh.

    A bit of hyperbole never hurt anyone.

    I saw it on the back of ludicrously overinflated recommendations- and think it’s truly atrocious. I usually love this kind of thing as well.

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