*. Hm. I’m not sure what to make of this one. The way the title appears on the screen along with a scream and then a splatter of blood makes me think we’re in horror-comedy territory. An impression reinforced by the vision of Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) progressing through high school halls, her bust the cynosure of admiring and envious eyes.
*. It seems Mandy Lane has blossomed over the summer into a goddess. But, like any goddess, she is untouchable. As one boy informs us while we watch her bounce around the track: “There she is boys, Mandy Lane. Untouched, pure. Since the dawn of junior year men have tried to possess her, and to date all have failed. Some have even died in their reckless pursuit of this angel.” The dying part will continue.
*. A gang of students — three girls, three boys — then head out to a cabin in the woods, or really a luxurious remote farmhouse, to drink, take drugs, and have sex. If this sounds like the set-up to an ’80s slasher flick you won’t be surprised by anything that follows. Point-of-view shots peering in windows alert us to the presence of a killer. There is a stop at the last gas station for a 150 miles on the way to the farm. There is a direct identification of sex with death in a couple of the kills. There’s no cell phone service out on the farm and the landline has been cut. The power goes off. The characters split up so they can be picked off one by one. A girl runs around in her sexy night attire. Bodies are discovered to the accompaniment of screams. There’s a last girl who won’t put out.
*. In all of this you may wonder what the point is in invoking so many obvious clichés. Homage? Satire? Laziness? Feminist reimagining? All of these at the same time? Kim Newman says it’s a film that “deconstructs the slasher,” and your guess is as good as mine what that means. I never understood deconstruction.
*. Oddly enough, I found most of the nods to the slasher tradition to just be irrelevant. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane feels like a slasher movie that wants to be something other than a slasher movie, but it doesn’t quite know what that something is. On the DVD commentary director Jonathan Levine calls it “a high school film in the Trojan horse of a slasher movie.” But then is it really a high school movie? There’s a body-shaming leitmotif that might have fit the bill but this mainly made me wonder why these kids were hanging out with each other in the first place. I know teens can be mean, but aren’t these guys supposed to be friends?
*. Is the movie all that interested in the soon-to-be-dead teenagers? Kim Newman apparently thought so, saying “Levine’s Texas kids are a world away from on-hiatus TV stars swapping pop-culture epigrams and owe more to the zit-popping realism of Richard Linklater or Larry Clark.” I think this is being charitable. The cast seem to only be slasher-film stereotypes: the stoner, the token black guy, the obnoxious heel, the princess/slut, the virginal last girl. None of them seemed particularly real to me.
*. Well, here I will insert a spoiler alert. The only part of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane that I found interesting is the way the last girl, who may very well be a virgin, turns out to be, if not the main killer, at least the psychopathic mastermind behind the killings. The only problem with this is that no explanation whatsoever is even attempted for Mandy’s delinquency. It’s just a twist that comes out of nowhere. Levine calls attention to the single brief scene of Mandy’s home life as giving some insight into her character, but when I re-watched it looking for such clues I didn’t come up with anything. Is there some foreshadowing I’m missing?
*. I’ve read in several places that Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre was an inspiration, but on the DVD commentary Levine specifically refers, twice, to the 2003 remake as being what they were influenced by. Now that’s scary.
*. It’s a movie with a curious history, beginning life as a student project at the American Film Institute, premiering on the midnight movie circuit at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006, and then having to wait until 2013 (!) for an American release. You’ll have to read the details elsewhere. My understanding is that the rights were bought and sold a few times as distributors came and went.
*. The delay allowed it to gain a sort of underground cult status, but also put it behind the times. As Christy Lemire remarked, “Its attempts at examining and subverting the well-worn conventions of the genre in the script from Jacob Forman might have seemed more novel seven years ago. But by now we’ve seen this approach executed much more effectively—and thrillingly—in films like The Cabin in the Woods.” To which one should say, in this movie’s defence, that The Cabin in the Woods cost a hell of a lot more to make.
*. More to the point, the “examining and subverting,” or, if you must, deconstruction, of genre conventions wasn’t that new in 2006 either. All of which brings me back to my unsureness about this movie. It’s not scary — the kills cheat on the gore right from the opening dive (for obvious budget reasons) and there’s little attempt to build suspense. It doesn’t seem particularly invested in the genre, at whatever level. The characters aren’t realistic, but are every bit as annoying as the victims in any slasher flick. The twist at the end feels tossed in, and even though I like the way the final act plays out (the slaughter pit leftover from Hud was particularly nice), I can’t say it landed with any sort of impact.
*. The way it’s put together, with different styles of photography and editing, is inoffensive, though it does have the flavour of student work, meaning experimenting with a lot of different ways of doing things without worrying too much about how appropriate or effective they may be. Montage? Why not? At times I even thought the DVD I was watching was damaged, and to be honest I’m not sure it wasn’t. Were those skips and freeze frames deliberate? If so, what was their point?
*. I think Amber Heard is pretty good in her first leading role. She’d go on to do worse. As a genre piece I don’t think it’s a movie that amounts to much, but it’s not bad at all for early work done on a low budget and it made for a pretty good calling card.