This nicely shot but basic teen slasher is pretty hard to sell. Levine’s All The Boys Love Mandy Lane follows in the footsteps of Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but lost me somewhere along the way. The plot’s as basic as 3 girls and 3 boys heading out to a ranch owned by one of their parents to celebrate the end of their junior year at school. On the first night, one by one they start to disappear, and soon realise someone is stalking through the night, picking them off. The twist at the end is neither predictable, nor that surprising, although the last 10 minutes of the film were the most entertaining; however, I’m not sure the director intended the spontaneous laughter which crept out from the preview theatre as the movie climaxed.
The problem with this movie lies largely in their age — they are pubescent kids. Not sexy pert 18-year-olds, but 16-year-olds who have barely developed hips or broken voices yet. They are, however, drinking, smoking, drugging, driving, and of course in true American style, using guns. As a woman, I found the overt sexualisation of the girls in incredibly bad taste. Mandy Lane (Heard) is an early bloomer, thrusting her newly-developed breasts in the boys’ faces, while simultaneously telling them she’s not interested in kissing them. I thought the casting was peculiar — Mandy Lane herself was rather girl-next-doory, no more beautiful or interesting than the others, the only difference being she ran her hands ‘provocatively’ through her hair so many times I wanted to throw my GHDs at her. In comparison, the other girls Chloe (Able) and Marlin (Price) are desperate to win the boys affections, having already gained huge sexual confidence — it seems that in Hollywood, if you’re not a virgin, you’re a slut. The girls frolic about in their underwear and, as if straight from a teenage boy’s wet dream, give blowjobs, flash their breasts, and suck on each other’s fingers. I was only surprised they didn’t include a naked pillow fight. The guys are considerably more interesting, and better cast, including ranch-hand Garth, played sympathetically by Mount. The boys’ insecurities are infinitely more palatable and realistic — trying to look cool in front of the girls, and begging Garth not to phone ‘the olds’ on discovering the half-smoked doobies and empty bottles of beer.
Some of the camerawork, however, stands this film out from others of the same genre, and there are some both heartstopping and genuinely funny moments. The film does explore teenage angst and develop its characters, it just does it in an obvious, formulaic way, all the while objectifying women. At under 90 minutes it mercifully doesn’t stretch out the wafer-thin plot, and in fairness it held my concentration. If indecent exposure and over sexualisation of pubescent teens doesn’t freak you out, then you might have a chance to love this film. For me it went too far in Hollywood’s simultaneous pisstaking and masturbation over young girls.
SECOND OPINION | Michael Edwards ***½ This is a film that is true to its source genre in its most fundamental aspect — the contrasts between the sugary sweet outward world and its dark underbelly. In Mandy Lane, as in many of its slasher predecessors, this boils down to a face-off between the too good to be true vitality and revelry of youth and beauty, and the painful twin tug of desire and responsibility. The latter manifests itself in the consciously stylised killing and overt (bordering on obsessive) sexuality which is so refreshingly unapologetic in Mandy Lane. Rather than putting loads of effort into being self-refexive and wry like the Scream franchise, or flamboyantly kitsch like the pastiche of Tarantino, Jonathan Levine instead realises his expression of the dichotomous world of high school through a series of cleverly composed shots which puncture the formulaic narrative with arty cinematography worthy of far better subject matter. The executions themselves are inventive and amusing, and the director must have been aware of this. In particular, the 'Chien Andalou'-esque murder is a triumphantly quirky nod to the absurdities of the content with which Levine is working.
I'm not going to argue with the claim that this film objectifies women. It does and it knows it. But to suggest that it is any kinder to its male characters is wide of the mark. The boys are no more rich in character than the girls, with a majority of both camps basically being insecure and narcissistic. Just like the girls, the leading lads use sex and sexuality to validate their self-worth and the whole group ends up vacillating between that familiar teenage ambivalence of supremely naive confidence and cataclysmic weakness and insecurity. Ranch-hand Garth may have hidden depths, but they are buried so far beneath his wooden, subservient, working-class hired-help badge that I don't have the time or inclination to look for them. The crux of this film lies in its expression of the heady mix of pleasure and pain inherent in this stage of life, which forms the weak spot ultimately exploited in the clever plot twist at the end. Frankly though, I feel that this is more than enough analysis for this move. When watching Mandy Lane the best thing to do is just sit back and bask in the stylised and playfully twisted gore of a fun and well-made genre film.