The provocatively titled "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" premiered to much acclaim and fanfare at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. A $750,000-budgeted teen horror picture that excelled at its multiple genres and seemed destined for wide appeal, it was quickly snatched up by The Weinstein Company, who paid an exorbitant $3-million-plus for distribution rights in the U.S. As is characteristic of TWC, the studio began shuffling the release date, scheduling it for July 20, 2007, following a couple winter and spring delays. Mere days before this Friday opening, the release was canceled again.
Senator Entertainment, a new up-and-coming company, bought "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" from the Weinsteins shortly thereafter, promising an early-2008 berth on no less than 1,000 screens. The early months of the new year came and went. Rumors of an April 2008 release never materialized, with Senator throwing out some cockamamie story about how they wanted to sit on the film until director Jonathan Levine's sophomore effort, Sundance favorite "The Wackness," opened in the summer and gained the filmmaker some wider cred. Sure enough, "The Wackness" came out in July, but its mediocre box office in limited release didn't exactly set the world on fire as Senator had assumed. An incredible five more years passed with "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" stuck in limbo. In that time, the Stateside distribution rights have reverted back to the Weinstein's On-Demand/theatrical shingle RADiUS-TWC. The film finally saw the light of day in the autumn of 2013, but how does one accurately sell a movie to audiences that has been widely available on DVD/Blu-ray in most foreign territories for over half a decade?
One can only hope "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" finds its rightful audience after the unfair abuse it has taken from the clueless Hollywood studio system. The film, twisting in fresh ways that set it apart from the usual paint-by-numbers slasher flick—in this regard, it is reminiscent of 2003's expertly conceived French chiller "High Tension"—has been made with an unusual love and care for detail. This becomes exceedingly apparent from the prologue, a journey through a typical high school hallway scored to Bedroom Walls' gorgeous song "In Anticipation of Your Suicide" that leads to a back-to-school party embodying the insecurity, fun, and foolish sense of immortality that comes with being a teenager.
Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) used to be a wallflower—someone only paid attention to by best friend Emmet (Michael Welch)—but after a prosperous summer she returns to high school a blossomed beauty. Every boy wants her, and every girl secretly wishes she could be her. Nine months following a classmate's tragic accidental death at a pool party, pothead Red (Aaron Himelstein) plans a weekend trip with friends—lustful buddies Bird (Edwin Hodge) and Jake (Luke Grimes), and argumentative gal pals Chloe (Whitney Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price)—to his family's secluded ranch. He invites Mandy along, and she accepts, eager to branch out of her shell even if she's not the type to partake in much of their brand of fun. Frivolity, drinking, recreational drug-taking and relationship tensions lead to confusion and fear when the group begin falling victim to a sociopath on the property.
It is tempting to say that "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" is actually better in the first half, before the more horrific plot elements emerge, but that is because director Jonathan Levine does such an extraordinary job of setting up his characters and the milieu they live within. A scene set on the school's outside track and bleachers, The Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed" blasting on the soundtrack, is like a great 1980s teen movie sprung to life. A little later, a montage using Juliette Commagere's wistful cover of America's "Sister Golden Hair" proves how powerful the mixture of music, image and editing can be on film when a true artist is at the reins.
Levine takes the valuable time to set up his characters and develop them free of stereotypes so that when a hooded killer enters the equation, first frighteningly glimpsed so subtly in the background that the viewer questions if he or she really saw anything at all, their demises mean more than if they were just one-note caricatures. Before this, suspense is ratcheted with notable skill, as in a scene where a water snake slithering perilously close to Mandy as she swims in a pond turns out to only be an example of intentional misdirection. When the killing spree takes off in the picture's second half, the reveal of the murderer's identity comes a little too early and lessens the potential to outright scare. Still, by the end, the reason for why this occurs is uncovered, leading to a surprise in the finale that totally alters the story's trajectory and adds newfound relevance to our current times.
If a motion picture is going to be so bold as to use a title like "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane," it is imperative that viewers understand what makes Mandy so desirable. The casting directors did their job splendidly by casting Amber Heard (2011's "Drive Angry") in the role. Heard is strikingly beautiful, but, in portraying Mandy Lane, she also seems so personable, down-to-earth, and pure of heart that it is easy to see why others would be so drawn to here. More than that, though, Heard develops Mandy into a three-dimensional person, still confronting the effects that the deaths of her parents have had on her, and rather touching as she navigates through a sea of drooling peers who often treat her as nothing more than a prize to be won. The rest of the performances are strong—Anson Mount (2002's "Crossroads"), as the polite, slightly older farmhand on the ranch property, Garth, and Whitney Able (2010's "Monsters"), as the ignorantly self-involved Chloe, are especially characterized with more than one shade—but this is Amber Heard's showcase to steal.
Shot on location outside of Austin, Texas, reportedly only miles away from where 1974's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" was filmed, "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" is fitfully foreboding in its sun-dappled aura of isolation. As much a comment on the objectification of women—and, more specifically, teenage girls—as it is a grimy, violent, enthralling slasher pic, director Jonathan Levine and first-time screenwriter Jacob Forman have crafted one of the more memorable teen-oriented horror movies of the twenty-first century. Were the death toll to be stripped from the film, there would still be enough layers to delve into for it to still work, and that is the key to a solid script. With distaff remakes overwhelming the genre as of late, it is a shame that something original and demographically relatable like "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" has had such a difficult time reaching the big screen. Its moment in the spotlight is long overdue.