A pleasingly gritty and nuanced teen slasher movie, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane offers hope for the horror genre’s albino lovechild. Virginal high school princess Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is the girl every local, teen lothario wants to bang, much to the consternation of now-estranged, best friend Emmett (Michael Welch). In spite of her beauty, Mandy has always felt an outsider, so she agrees to go with would-be seducers, Red (Aaron Himelstein), Bird (Edwin Hodge) and Jake (Luke Grimes) for a fun weekend at an isolated ranch. Cute cheerleaders, Chloe (Whitney Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price) tag along, eager to take advantage of Mandy’s desirability and score with the guys, while handsome ranch-hand Garth (Anson Mount) tries to keep things safe. Skinny-dipping, drug-snorting, sexual shenanigans turn sour once a mysterious hooded killer starts brutally murdering the teenagers, one by one.
The synopsis might read like your average Friday the 13th clone, but there is more going on here than meets the eye. Slasher movies take a hypocritically puritanical attitude to teenage behaviour, inviting us to ogle nubile flesh and tut-tut bad behaviour, before some hockey masked deviant slaughters all the cool kids so the audience feels smugly self-satisfied. Debuting director Jonathan Levine and screenwriter Jacob Foreman don’t entirely pull off the successful reinvention the dull genre so badly needs, but provide enough food for thought to make this a minor triumph. An attractive cast are wholly believable teenagers, inhabiting a world where sex is coarse, awkward, with sometimes embarrassing and hurtful repercussions, yet always on everybody’s mind.
From the opening shot that mimics the young men’s gaze at Mandy’s chest, to the sun-dappled, skinny dipping antics, Levine understands that adolescent sexuality shows little finesse. Yet rather than seeming voyeuristic, the film often feels honest, its teen angst closer in tone to Gus Van Sant than Sean S. Cunningham. Levine can’t resist throwing a few clichéd false scares and grim nastiness (a girl forced to fellate a shotgun rammed between her jaws), but between killings lets characters hint at suppressed pain, insecurities and anxieties that lie beneath their surface cruelty. Even the requisite topless scene reaches beyond titillation. Removing her padded bra, blonde bully Chloe fails to lure Garth and stares glumly at what she perceives as a pale, ordinary reflection. Impressively, the film does not serve us a slick, wisecracking killer for an anti-hero, something slasher movies do far too often. The murders are ugly, abrupt and unconcerned with upping the gore stakes, which is perhaps how it should be if the genre is to recover its soul. A twisty climax flirts with social commentary. While it does not cut as deep as say, Pretty Poison (1968) and leaves us nobody to engage our sympathies with, it nonetheless provokes the audience into contemplating the motivation behind these crimes, which is somewhat unique.
Produced by the Weinstein Company, who shunted it off to another distributor after Grindhouse (2007) flopped, this proved elusive for two years and is worth seeking out. The conclusion is a little sloppy and confusing but then again, so is adolescence.