Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shocktober Review Revisited: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

 (update: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is finally out in the U.S. - it's currently available as a Video On Demand title and will have a limited theatrical release starting this week. It is worth noting that the general consensus differs from the Cap'n's take on the film, but I still recommend it for fans of slasher films.)

  Original review from 2011:

 All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a refreshingly good "teen" slasher film from 2006 that has, for reasons unclear to most, yet to see release in the U.S. in theatres or home video. The Weinstein Company acquired the film, released it overseas, and then sat on it, presumably indefinitely, for stateside distribution. This is a shame as its star, Amber Heard (Pineapple Express, Zombieland, Drive Angry) is on the rise, and the film itself is head and shoulders above the remake heavy, PG-13 friendly films that pass as "horror" these days.

Mandy Lane (Heard) is a junior in high school and the subject of many a high school fantasy for members of the opposite sex. Her friend Emmet (Michael Welch) seems to be resigned to his status, but when his jealous head games accidentally kill Dylan (Adam Powell), a wedge is driven between Mandy and Emmet. Nine months later, Red (Aaron Himelstein) invites Mandy to join his friends Jake (Luke Grimes), Chloe (Whitney Able), Bird (Edwin Hodge), and Marlin (Melissa Price) at his father's ranch, and Mandy, feeling lonely, agrees to join them. No sooner have they arrived than someone begins picking off the students, one by one. Is it the mysterious ranch hand Garth (Anson Mount)? A jealous Emmet? Or did Dylan really die when he jumped off the roof and missed his pool?

Aside from being a well made slasher film, one that actually builds some suspense and doesn't fixate on elaborate traps or outlandish kills, the cast is actually pretty good (what a novelty!) and doesn't grate the nerves in ways that recent teen-centered horror tends to. Every character has an arc (of sorts) that plays out during the film, one centered around a particular insecurity that is, if nothing else, a step above the slasher archetypes: stoner, jock, mysterious stranger, asshole, slut, and ethnic stereotype. Oh, and "Final Girl." Mind you, all of the characters map on to these types in a superficial level, but All the Boys Love Mandy Lane actually allows them to interact and, y'know, grow a little instead of just getting knocked off*.

There's also an efficiency in the storytelling that's refreshing: the standard "why phones don't work" or "why they don't just drive off" are handled in passing, but logical ways, and the film takes place over the course of one night in a remote location with enough space to separate the kids when egos are bruised.

What really sets the All the Boys Love Mandy Lane apart from films of its ilk (think the Sorority Row or Black Christmas or Friday the 13th remakes) is the way director Jonathan Levine and writer Jacob Forman shift the trope of "Final Girl" almost immediately. Mandy Lane is objectified before we've even been introduced to the character proper - this is the first shot of Amber Heard in the film:

The "Final Girl," a trope as old as slasher films, is almost never the subject of the male gaze, and as Mandy Lane walks down the hall of her school, she has the undivided attention of, well, all the boys, as well as some of the girls. Mandy Lane is an atypical "Final Girl"; her virginity is seen as something to be conquered by nearly every male character in the film, and each of them, regardless of the peril surrounding them, all use their best pick up line in order to have "first dibs."

Without spoiling too much, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane also deviates from the slasher formula by unequivocally identifying the killer halfway into the film, removing certain ambiguities but raising others as it moves towards an unexpected ending (even if you figure out the "twist" providing you want to call it that, the manner in which it plays out pleasantly surprised me). The very end, I suspect, is one reason that audiences are split on the film, because it takes the "Final Girl" one step further and forces you to re-evaluate the way horror audiences typically engage with their characters.

In all honesty, I have no idea when you're going to be able to see All the Boys Love Mandy Lane domestically: an import of the UK Blu Ray (all regions) and (region 2) DVD are listed on Amazon for reasonable prices, but if you're looking to rent before you buy, I don't really know how to help you. Since the film has a rather polarizing ending that I hesitate to spoil, you might want to sit patiently and keep your eyes peeled and ears open. It's worth the wait, I think. (note: see "update" at the top of this review for more information).

* Members of the cast other than Amber Heard have moved on to appear in movies you would be able to see, by the way: Whitney Able is in the well received Monsters from last year; Michael Welch is, apparently, a semi-major character in the Twilight films; Edwin Hodge will be in the forthcoming remake of Red Dawn, and Luke Grimes went on to pick up a recurring role in ABC's Brothers and Sisters.

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