31 Days of Halloween: Day 30 – All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

A movie review article by: Paul Brian McCoy

This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is director Jonathan Levine's All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

Apparently you can't talk about this film without going into the whole "it was made in 2006 but is only now being released" drama. That's cool, as it's an interesting and educational story for young film makers. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane was Jonathan Levine's debut feature film, directed in 2006 and premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival that year before going on to the festival circuit and getting picked up in 2007 by the Weinstein Company.

However, when the Weinstein's Grindhouse didn't blow up the marketplace, they put a bit of a kibosh on low-budget horror and sold the film to Senator Entertainment US -- who was only just developing its own distribution company. Well, that tanked pretty quickly and suddenly All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (along with other unreleased projects) went into limbo until 2008, when the film resurfaced with another round of festival appearances and then a UK release in February 2008. After that, there was no progress again until the film screened at Comic-Con 2010, where Levine and star Amber Heard spread the word that a North American release was on the way.

Two years later -- this year -- the film was finally released on demand in September and to theaters on October 11. In the meantime, Levine has made a name for himself with the Sundance Audience Award winner The Wackness (2008), the Joseph Gordon-Levitt cancer comedy-drama 50/50, and the zom-rom-com Warm Bodies (reviewed here and here). So, now, seven years after it debuted in Toronto, US viewers finally get to see what all the fuss was about.

And there was rightfully fuss.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane tells the tale of high school outcast / fantasy girl -- wait, what? (just go with it) -- on a weekend getaway with the cool kids, where the ultimate goal is to corrupt her or maybe just get in her pants. But while they hang out at an isolated ranch, a mysterious figure shows up and starts killing everyone in sight. It turns into a fairly effective home invasion style film with the kids all trapped and trying to figure out how to escape with their lives.

If that was all the film was, I'd have to side with the haters (and there are many) who call this tired and clichéd -- although, given the time it's taken for the film to hit the theaters, that's just not a fair or valid criticism. Saying other films have covered the same ground since this one was made is a stupid point to make -- like saying that since other films have done slashers, Psycho is full of clichés after the fact. But there's more to the story than that, as it plays with the idea of bullying in a way far more inventive and ultimately satisfying than say, the new iteration of Carrie.

The entire opening sequence follows Mandy and her best friend Emmet (Michael Welch), both of whom are social outcasts for one reason or another, going to a pool party with the cool kids. Emmet is only allowed to tag along at Mandy's request, and Mandy is only invited because Dylan (Adam Powell), who is throwing the party, wants to get in her pants. Essentially, what we have is the rest of the film played out in microcosm, setting the stage for what is to come.

While sitting up on the roof overlooking the pool, Emmet is harassed by a drunk Dylan, but manipulates the bully into trying to impress Mandy by jumping from the roof to the pool; a jump that is way too far to make. Dylan jumps, smacks his head on the edge of the pool, and dies then and there, turning Emmet into even more of a social pariah and pushing Mandy away at the same time.

It's a vivid and powerful sequence, highlighted by strong performances and Levine's sure hand directing. The script, by Jacob Forman is tense and well-paced, if a little short on realism at times. But realism isn't the point. The point is setting up the fact that the popular kids want Mandy for themselves, but she deliberately keeps herself on the outside. Emmet is also the focus of attention here, establishing that he has a sociopathic streak that makes sympathizing with him difficult.

By the time the rest of the movie kicks in, and a hoodied killer is abusing and murdering the other kids at the ranch, you know it's going to be Emmet. That's not a surprise, and I don't think it's supposed to be. Instead, the audience is forced into a tricky moral place where it's almost impossible to want these kids to survive -- they are seriously shitty, shallow, and dumb -- but you can't really root for Emmet, because he's clearly crazy.

The way the film navigates that moral space is clever, and Levine uses every trick he can think of to present images that are startling in both their beauty and their violence. By the time the climax nears, while we have developed some compassion for the shitty kids, there's still no real emotional connection with them. All the connection is withheld for Mandy Lane and, oddly enough, the older ranch hand Garth, played by Hell on Wheels' Anson Mount, who serves as a source of lust for the girls in a similar way Mandy does for the boys.

Which then sets us up for a sneaky twist that was difficult to see coming. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary, but I loved the turn this took and while it came out of the blue, it wasn't a complete leap from what had come before. There are seeds scattered throughout the film that, in retrospect, lay a groundwork that makes the final minutes ring truer than they may feel on first viewing.

So yeah. I dug this one a lot more than I thought I was going to. You may, too.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.

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