Horror movie fans have it rougher than most. Their breed is one of the most loyal of audiences, and yet what they are often served is predictable, by-the-numbers tripe. Smart, well-crafted horror movies are usually in short supply (yes, there are small exceptions) and instead the industry has been overrun by lowest common denominator, found-footage frighteners made at bargain basement prices because the yield ratio is so high. Savvy producers/studios take advantage by realizing most cheaply made horror gross well regardless of the quality or investment, so what’s the incentive to produce an expensive or well-made product? It’s a vicious cycle and cynical industry that often green lights any half baked project simply because it’s a ROI no-brainer that works, especially when calculably programmed during traditionally slow weekends.
In short, horror fans (and all apologies to them) are starved for something of quality. So much so, whenever a decent (but not brilliant) horror movie rolls around, the signal to noise ration on buzz vs. actual quality is often out of sync (see “You’re Next” which is fun, but far from a revelation). Which leads us to “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane“—a decently-shot, but otherwise largely unremarkable horror movie met with waves of praise at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006. Studio politics, bad luck horse-trading deals and then legal issues kept the film on the shelf for seven years. But finally, Radius-TWC will release the film this fall.
Films kept away under lock and key from audiences tend to grow a mystique that make them all the more desirable, but unlike most shelved projects that were barely seen to begin with, ‘Mandy Lane’ was met with high praise from those that saw it seven years ago, so that makes it all the more coveted. But it’s hard to see why.
Directed by Jonathan Levine (a director who would go on to far better movies like “The Wackness” and “50/50”), fails to deliver anything outside the horror-norm—though the script by Jacob Forman does flirt with subverting some of the genre’s clichés. In her breakout role, Amber Heard stars as the titular Mandy, a shy, but popular and gorgeous high schooler. Lusted over by many, all the boys do indeed want Mandy Lane. Mandy’s best friend is Emmet (Michael Welch), an outsider on the fringes of high school that no one seems to love but all tolerate simply because he’s essentially the one member of her inner circle. Even Dylan (Adam Powell), a generic and popular high school jock, who clearly wants in Lane’s pants, has to live with the fact that if he wants the lusted-after teenager to come to his pool party, that means weirdo Emmet has to tag along too.
At the party, the movie’s petty high school dynamics get briefly interesting. Dylan beats up Emmet, but then essentially faux befriends him to glean insider knowledge of Mandy’s interests. Two steps ahead of the drunken lout, the conniving Emmet convinces Dylan to jump off his roof into the pool to impress Mandy, which of course leads to his gruesome and accidental death.
Nine months pass and Emmet and Mandy are no longer speaking. But all the boys still want Mandy Lane, and so a group of teenagers still hot for her—including Red (Aaron Himelstein), Bird (Edwin Hodge) Jake (Luke Grimes) and their girlfriends, Chloe (Whitney Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price)—concoct a plan and invite her to spend the weekend at a secluded ranch house. Like clockwork for any generic horror film, the group of teens are soon targeted by a crazy stalker and any semblance of an original movie flies out the window. Even the older ranch hand, the handsome shotgun-toting Garth (Anson Mount) can do little to prevent the group from being picked off one by one by this mysterious psychopath.
Think of a group of teenagers in a strange house and a killer who wants them dead and “All The Boys Want Mandy Lane” will provide you with every horror cliché blueprint in the book. There are drugs, couples that slink off to have sex that are killed, the guy going outside to figure out what that sound was, the girl who goes missing early and no one seems to notice. Rinse, recycle, repeat. Yes, ‘Mandy Lane’ goes there. Performances are negligible across the board (other than seeing that yes, Amber Heard has a movie star quality about her) and the horror scares aren’t particularly exceptional.
And while there’s a twist to the movie that we won’t reveal here, it’s nowhere near as inventive as it could have been. The reveal attempts to poke fun at horror conventions, but it fails and it’s hardly fresh or hard to spot. More importantly, it hints at picking up the interesting thread of misfits vs. the popular class of high schoolers, but quickly drops this theme in favor of bloodlust, revenge and whiny teenage histrionics. And so ‘Mandy Lane’ leans toward the conventional and boilerplate, making it difficult to discern what all the fuss was about in the first place.
“All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” certainly does possess style, but said aesthetics are also questionable or completely empty. Slathered with indie-rock (Peaches, The Earlies, Dead Waves, Bedroom Walls) and the occasional classic pop tunes (The Go-Gos), the film employs wall-to-wall music to indicate everyone’s having a fun, sexy time (until they’re not of course), but it’s never elegantly incorporated in this film (outside of the cool and iconic Bobby Vinton song at the end that some music supervisor is still pleased pink about). Cinematographer Darren Genet shoots an above average horror film with exploitation-era grindhouse-y super-saturated colors and even takes a moment or two to shoot a Terrence Malick-esque shot of sunsets and trees, but comparisons to Malick have been laughably overstated by many.
Half-heartedly subverting horror clichés at best, combined with all its indie music and occasional pretty shots, “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” may have been a bold new slasher pic in 2006 (though several reviews from that era suggest a movie not worth writing home breathlessly about). But in 2013, seven years after the fact, it hasn’t aged well at all. And that’s likely because this remarkably average horror movie was rather unexceptional to begin with. [C-]