December 9, 2013

50 States, 50 Movies: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006; Texas)

Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Amber Heard ("Mandy Lane"), Anson Mount ("Garth"), Whitney Able ("Chloe"), and Michael Welch ("Emmet"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Anchor Bay/Starz)
Running time: 01:30:25
Country: USA

I'm sure most of you know about this film's history, so I don't need to tell you that it was shelved for about seven years before it was given a proper wide release in North America. As a horror fan, it was sort of comforting to know that it was shelved due to its distributor going bankrupt as opposed to a distributor not having any faith in it and shit-canning it based on its merits. So with that being said, was it worth the wait? I don't know; I illegally downloaded it back in the day with the knowledge that I may never get to see a proper release of it. But, nonetheless, I'm glad it's not available for the masses, and yes, I quite enjoyed it when I initially saw it years ago.

As if you couldn't tell by the title, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE is, in some ways, a throwback to 70s Grindhouse movies. And, as cheesy as it is, it's also an evocative title that draws you in like a magnet. Well, that was the case with me anyway. Had this been given some shitty generic title like THIRST or PULSE, I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't have given a shit about it until it got some decent word-of-mouth. But anyway, the lead character, Mandy Lane, is a high-school senior who's introduced via one of those cliche slow-motion shots of her walking through the high school hallway as everyone stares at her like she's the second coming of Jesus Christ. It's gradually revealed that, though, that she's not your typical hot, stuck-up chick; she's seemingly down to Earth and has a mysterious vibe about her. She's also very close with some loner kid named Emmet, who initially seems like her brother, but it ends up not being the case.

Long story short, it's revealed that Mandy suddenly blossomed during the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, which is one of the reasons why she's suddenly getting attention from boys and girls alike. It's also established that she's unexplored territory if you know what I mean, so there's that too. That said, she's sort of accepted into a circle of friends who are portrayed as the semi-popular kids. Subsequently, they invite her to take a trip with them out to a ranch that one of them owns for a weekend of debauchery, or something. She accepts the invite but does so at the cost of ditching her loyal pal Emmet, who, at this point, has been shunned by pretty much everyone because of an incident that occurred earlier in the movie.

Once at the ranch, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE gradually turns into a slasher, in which the teens are being picked off one by one. However, it's not set up like a conventional slasher. For one, there's no establishing kill scene at the beginning of the film, nor is there some sort of origin story (THE BURNING, SLAUGHTER HIGH, etc.) for the killer that sets everything up. And by the time that first kill happens, it's seemingly random due to the fact that there's no motive established, but the film does a good job of setting up red herrings so there's at least somewhat of a mystery element once the actual slashings kick into gear. It's also unconventional in the sense that the characters have a lot more depth than your typical slasher movie and they're not set up to where you can predict who's gonna die first and who's gonna die last. In true teen-slasher fashion, the characters aren't the nicest people out there, but most of them (especially the girls) are insecure and possess what they perceive to be flaws, which isn't something you see in a lot of modern horror movies with cookie-cutter characters. Sometimes ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE feels like it's trying to be the furthest thing from a slasher, but, to me, that's a good thing. Something else worth mentioning is the manner of how the killer is revealed. I'm obviously not gonna get into details, but the timing of the reveal is one of the many bold things about this film.

One of the things that does make this movie worthy of being a regarded slasher and a solid exploitation throwback is the violence. There aren't any creative kills in the movie, nor are there any flamboyant Argento-esque death scenes, but the violence is still very satisfying from a visual standpoint. At times, the violence is stylized and fitting for a slasher that thrives on gory kills, but there are other times where the brutality is very sudden and matter-of-fact, which is why its a nice balance of traditional 80s slasher and 70s exploitation homage. Even director Jonathan Levine (WARM BODIES) says on the DVD's commentary track that he wishes he could've gotten a bit gorier with some of the kills, but it's those moments of sudden violence that keep ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE rooted in reality as much as possible.

As some of you may know by this point, Jonathan Levine loves to include a shit-load of unoriginal music in his films, and by that I mean contemporary (or not-so-contemporary) pop songs. Such is the case with ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, but to good effect. Aside from the steady flow of indie pop/indie rock songs, this is a very stylish film and probably one of the better shot horror movies of the last decade. Darren Genet's cinematography, first and foremost, is pretty amazing, and there are clearly tributes being paid to a number of horror movies throughout the film based on certain camera movements and framing alone. There's also quite a bit of music video-style editing but without being overdone and obnoxiously flashy.

I don't know if it's ever been mentioned by anyone involved with the film, but ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE totally seems like it's making a commentary on the seemingly impossible task of men figuring out the opposite sex, but here it's taken to another level and it maintains that commentary until the very end. Again, I'm not saying this is fact, but it's how I perceived the film from an allegorical standpoint, which, to me, was most evident with the film's final twist. Overall, it's not the most well-paced or original horror movie out there, but it's pretty solid in the areas where it counts the most: style, entertainment value, and violence. The fleshed-out characters and the gorgeous Amber Heard are simply icing on the cake.

Score: 7.5

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