It took seven years on the shelf at the Weinstein Company (and briefly at Senator before they went bankrupt) after the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival debut of Jonathan Levine’s first feature, the clever slasher All the Boys Love Mandy Lane for the film to finally get released in North America, but thankfully it’s as fresh as the day it was made. Tense, clever, and full of youthful energy, it might now be an interesting piece to look at in the context of the careers of Levine (The Wackness, 50/50, Warm Bodies) and star Amber Heard, but the story itself is such classic, old-school horror fodder that it could have stayed on the shelf several more years. Then again, after spending years talking this movie up to horror buffs, I’m glad I no longer have to keep talking about it and people can actually see it.
Mandy Lane (Heard) used to be a quiet and plain girl, but like many youngsters of both sexes, returned to high school after a summer away looking suddenly attractive to potential suitors and envious competition. During that first summer, her hotness leads to a mysterious accident that claimed a life. Now hot and deeply mysterious, a bunch of horny dudes and mean girls invite Mandy to a summer vacation getaway on a secluded ranch. But someone has followed them there, and they don’t seem to approve of the youngster’s drinking, drugging, careless, sexing ways. Is the threat coming from outside the group or within?
While the technology (dig those flip phones everyone has!) and the few fleeting pop culture references (so slight you might actually miss them) have dated poorly, Levine’s gorgeously shot and demented American gothic aesthetic holds up nicely on the big screen. His story never held that many surprises aside from taking a decent amount of time before getting to his gory endgame. There’s the requisite final girl, the red herrings, the person everyone thought was dead but wasn’t dead, a grotesque place for a final standoff telegraphed well in advance, a final tour of the dead, the doomed lovers, it’s all here. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane was never trying to reinvent the genre wheel, but the ride on said wheel often isn’t as smooth and assured from a first time filmmaker.
There’s something in Levine’s work both past and present that can really only be adequately described as a sort of music video pastoral. Blending sound, music, and images that look like photographs aging before one’s eye, Levine certainly shot a film that’s supposed to look timeless in both directions. It could easily be mistaken as being from any decade rather than the most recently past one. He’s certainly gotten better as an editor mind over the years, though, with that being the one area where this one always kind of suffered a bit. Still, it’s a great and playful homage and gentle subversion of genre clichés that launched his career even though not too many people were able to see it back in the day.
And more importantly, it’s not too late to make this the film that makes Heard into a star. She’s incredibly smart, sexy, instinctual and worthy of a headlining role that goes in some interesting directions. Come to think of it, directors and actresses in the interim between the debut and release of this one owe a lot to Mandy Lane (including one major franchise sequel that rips off this film’s final third so shamelessly there’s potentially grounds for a lawsuit) and Heard’s work. Heck, she’s actually played this role twice now if one thinks about it and is familiar with her career. Levine made a great film, but Heard made it really special. They should get back together to work on something else soon. Maybe that film won’t take seven years to see the light of day.