United States. 90 minutes. Directed by Jonathan Levine, 2006. Starring Amber Heard, Michael Welch, Whitney Able, Edwin Hodge, Aaron Himmelstein, Luke Grimes, Melissa Price, Anson Mount.
Six high school friends head off to a remote Texas ranch for a weekend of drinking and trying to get in each other’s pants. Someone starts picking them off one by one. Basically, it’s just like every other slasher flick.
Sigh. Okay, fine; I’ll do it properly. High school junior Mandy Lane has “gotten hot” over the summer; her male conquests have targeted her as the ultimate sexual conquest. At a weekend at a Texas cattle ranch, three of her peers vie for her attention…but soon enough, someone starts killing the boys, and their female friends, one by one. But who?
Look, let’s be honest about something. Writing and presenting strong female characters is a laudable goal, there’s no doubt about that. But for every credible and relatable female horror-movie protagonist like Dana Polk (The Cabin in the Woods) there’s a Mia Allen (Evil Dead remake): a character you’re expected to root for not because the filmmakers and lead actress make you want to root for her, but because she’s the “Final Girl” and therefore a standard fitting of the modern mainstream horror story.
Mandy Lane is squarely in the Mia Allen tradition of Final Girls. If we like her, it’s not because of anything having to do with her; it’s because the rest of the characters are so unlikeable that her seeming lack of personality seems like a breath of fresh air. But the biggest problem with her as a character is that she really isn’t one. She’s simply the film’s Macguffin, or at least her virginity is.
If Forman and Levine tried to make some sort of social commentary about how men only see women as vaginas on legs, they’ve failed, partially because the male characters (and the female characters, honestly) are so cartoonish the audience can’t take them seriously, and partially because in order to do that you’d need to tell the story from the boys’ point of view, which doesn’t happen.
If writer Jacob Forman and director Jonathan Levine want the audience to see Mandy as an outsider who learns to take control of her life, they’ve also failed, because we never buy Mandy as an outsider. We’re told she “got hot over the summer,” but we’re left to imagine what exactly that means, since all we ever see is Amber Heard wearing a tank top and a miniskirt. This might have been less of a problem had the film been released in 2006 as was originally intended, when Heard was still comparatively unknown, and the audience (and a 2014 fan of modern genre films should recognize her from stuff like Zombieland, Machete Kills, Drive Angry and a lot more) didn’t have preconceptions about the sort of character she would play.
Several painfully forced “grindhouse” touches create an ironic remove, which might help if the filmmakers were trying to go for something more blackly comic, like a Heathers-via-Daria version of Scream. But even then, they’ve failed, because the end product isn’t all that funny.
But I will try to be upbeat here. A lot of Forman’s dialogue is clever and entertaining; Levine’s direction, apart from the faux-grindhouse touches, is several notches above what the material actually deserves. And the performances are actually quite good, most crucially Heard’s.
However, none of this detracts from the fact that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a typical slasher movie, with typical slasher movie characters running through typical slasher movie plot points.