Sunday, February 17, 2008

Review - All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

As soon as we first lay eyes on the title character in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, we can see she's something special. In the opening scene, Mandy (played by the fetching Amber Heard) strides down a high school corridor, the camera caressing her body, while every male student in the vicinity is transfixed by her beauty. All the boys do indeed love Mandy Lane – or at least, all the boys are driven half-crazed by lust in her presence – but as yet nobody has managed to win her heart. One unfortunate soul even lost his life in an ill-advised attempt to impress the object of his desire, a nasty incident that drove a wedge between Mandy and her onetime best friend Emmett (Michael Welch). Still, Mandy's admirers remain unwavering in their attempts to crack this tough nut, and when she agrees to join some friends for a weekend at an isolated ranch, the male members of the group feel that this is their chance. Buoyed by alcohol and drugs, they all make a play for Mandy, but as the night draws on they gradually become aware of a figure lurking outside the house, somebody who is willing to kill the competition in order to have Mandy Lane all to himself.

That's right, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a teen slasher movie, a term which has almost become a pejorative one given the risible nature of these pictures in recent years. It would be unfair to lump Jonathan Levine's feature debut in with the likes of Wrong Turn, or House of Wax, though, because this feels like a film made with more care and attention than most, and the filmmakers appear to understand the value of tension and measured pacing instead of simply serving up the shocks. Much of the opening hour unfolds at a surprisingly languid pace, allowing us to spend some time with the characters before they are despatched; and while the film's major players do fit the archetypes for this kind of film – there's a smooth one, a nerdy one, an airhead one – they are all solidly played and first-time screenwriter Jacob Forman shows a knack for developing plausible group dynamics. The teenagers in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane are primarily driven by hormones and pride, and the opening half of the picture tends to focus on the sexual tension and petty games of one-upmanship between various characters.

Of course, the killing must eventually start, and when the bodies do start turning up Levine and Forman make no attempt to conceal the identity of the culprit (it won't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention anyway). So the film's hold on its audience ultimately rests more on the way Levine handles the stock situations his narrative throws up, and even if two murders in particular were a tad unpleasant for my taste, he mostly shies away from the explicit sadism of recent horror pictures in favour of developing a nicely sustained sense of dread. Throughout all of this, Amber Heard provides the film with a magnetic central figure – simultaneously inviting and rebuffing male attention as the enigmatic Mandy. She's a real find, and the whole picture has a similar sense of discovery about it; the striking, 70's-style aesthetic and lack of ironic detachment making it feel like a throwback to an earlier era of horror filmmaking, quite apart from this post-Scream age.

It's not my intention with this review to make All the Boys Love Mandy Lane sound like anything more than it is – the filmmakers have hardly reinvented the wheel, and a late, unconvincing twist almost derails the whole show – but the film does merit praise for the simple things it has managed to do right. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane has been made with some intelligence, some class, and a solid directorial vision – slight praise, you might think, but it's still enough to make a film which is way above average for the genre.