Written by Jacob Forman
Directed by Jonathan Levine
It is difficult to discuss All the Boys Love Mandy Lane without considering the painfully long road the film has pursued to get a domestic release. This indie horror film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival…in 2006. Since then, it’s been 7 years of getting played at film festivals around the world, getting foreign releases here and there, and a whole lot of waiting. (Mandy Lane is likely the only film to date to be bought by a studio, The Weinstein Company in this case, two different times.) And so, now that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is getting a release in theaters and on VOD, now that its director and star have gone on to moderately successful careers, it’s hard not to watch this film and wonder what the fuss was all about; why did it take so long for this movie to get released?
This is, to be clear, not to say All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a bad film. In some respects, it represents a unique twist on the old-fashioned slasher/Ten Little Indians story, specifically because it was shot with care and attention. Though it would be facile to dub the movie’s visual aesthetic as Malickian, it’s not wrong to be struck by the cinematography, as well as the deliberately fractured editing. In short, the technical elements of this movie were not forgotten until the close of the post-production phase. Having said that, the story and characters within those elements too often feel shallow and undeveloped. The title character (Amber Heard, pre-Zombieland and Pineapple Express) is sought after by pretty much every boy at her Texas high school. A few months after a tragedy involving one of her classmates, Mandy is invited to another classmate’s ranch for an all-nighter of drinking, debauchery, and isolated fun. Things go smoothly, until one by one, each of the partiers gets waylaid by a mysterious figure, and is dispatched in bloody fashion.
Heard is well-cast among the ensemble, not just because she’s as beautiful as all the male characters treat her, but because she looks less like a human-sized doll than the other girls in the movie. Though it may seem prurient or simply icky to dwell on Heard’s looks as opposed to her acting talent, it’s hard not to because Mandy is, by and large, defined solely by how she looks. She talks to the other teens getting drunk, but never so much that we learn too much about her as a character. Even the little bit of backstory she offers, in a quiet chat with farmhand Garth (Anson Mount), the sole adult in the story, is all surface level. Mandy is an alluring enigma, and Heard occupies that role excellently. However, it’d be nice if Jacob Forman’s script offered more than this rote characterization. It enables the third-act twist to have some impact, while also serving as a reminder of how little we ever really knew Mandy Lane.
Director Jonathan Levine, who’s gone on to direct films like 50/50 and Warm Bodies, has a flair for not taking the easy way out visually. He and cinematographer Darren Genet do not slouch in displaying how remote this ranch feels, how the entire world could be comprised in the sexual back-and-forths between the sextet of teenagers frolicking about. Nothing else matters to them, and before blood begins to spill, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane feels almost quaint and idyllic, a modern glimpse at the shallow, heedless fun of being a popular teenager; by the end, of course, it’s more a general condemnation of popularity and school bullying gussied up with guts and gore, with more than a touch of glibness.
It’s the smirking quality of the third act that’s a bit bothersome: the long shot where the murderer pursues a victim in their car while blasting a generic pop song on the stereo, for example, is particularly galling, because even a moment of dark humor feels inappropriate in an otherwise straight-faced horror drama. Leaving aside the film’s outrageously long road to release—and there is no good creative excuse for why this visually fascinating if creatively mild story languishes for 7 years, while we get no end of splatter-filled remakes in the meantime—All the Boys Love Mandy Lane offers a respite from the blandly designed horror films of the past decade, eschewing trends like found footage in favor of the spare and barren farmland dotting the interior of the United States. The characters placed within the environment, sadly, aren’t as vibrant and unexpected.
— Josh Spiegel