Rating: R (strong disturbing violence, pervasive drug and alcohol use, sexuality/nudity, and language-all involving teens)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 6, 2013
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Stars: 3 out of 5
What usually happens when a handful of attractive teenagers are alone together in a remote setting? Typically, one after another are picked off by some sort of psychopathic killer with an axe-or a machete-to grind. Although this is a plot that many audiences have seen before, studios continue to release films every year that follow the same basic story structure. Originally completed in 2006 but not released until September 2013, “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” (watch trailer) is similar to a number of horror films, but the differences that the director and the cast bring to this film make it a refreshing addition to this genre.
As the movie begins, we meet Mandy Lane. She is beautiful and smart, but she doesn’t fit the typical mold of her high school counterparts. She tends to stay away from the popular cliques, and her best friend, Emmett, hangs on the periphery of the cool crowds. Amber Heard plays the role of Mandy with ease, and viewers feel both sympathetic and uncomfortable with her shyness. Michael Welch, who plays Emmett, is also convincing in his role as the awkward friend of the most beautiful girl in school. The relationship between Mandy and Emmett-the orphan and the outcast-seems unlikely, but it gives viewers a sense that there is something more under the surface that connects the unlikely couple. After a tragic accident at a pool party, the friendship between Mandy and Emmett becomes strained.
The story picks up again nine months after the pool party. Mandy tries her best to ignore Emmett, and she spends most of her time with the elite students. The supporting cast of characters who played the popular kids approached their roles comfortably, and they were convincing with their various personalities. A trip to a secluded ranch is planned, and Mandy is the object of desire for most of the male attendees. Upon arrival, the youths proceed to have a weekend of debauchery, and the only adult on the premises is Garth, played by Anson Mount. As the kids begin to make questionable decisions, Garth tries to keep everyone in line. Unfortunately, the arrival of a vicious murderer makes maintaining order more difficult than he anticipated. Adding an adult character to the story is an interesting derivation from the usual plot. It serves to make the audience feel there is someone to keep these young adults from falling prey to whatever evil may befall them, and it lulls them into a sense of security that is slowly torn away by the escalating violence.
Director Jonathan Levine introduced masterful cinematography to this film, and that is another facet of “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” that separates it from other movies in the horror classification. He mixes a variety of clever camera angles with fast-paced action scenes to give the film an almost dreamlike feel. The movie alternates between slow scenes with witty dialogue and hectic scenes drenched in blood to keep the audience off guard. The film also has a haunting score punctuated with a pop soundtrack that adds to its ethereal quality. Even though Levine used music and visuals to make this feel like a different kind of slasher flick, he made sure to remind viewers that they were seeing a high-quality horror film. There is plenty of gore to satisfy the most diehard fan, but Levine stopped the action just short of being too violent or offensive. He left the most grisly parts of the film up to the imaginations of the moviegoers, and that added an extra layer of fright to this already scary movie. In an intriguing move, Levine revealed the identity of the murderer early. This choice was effective because it allowed the audience more time to understand the motive behind the killer’s actions. More information is brought to light in an unforeseen twist near the end of the film, and the director’s reasoning makes even more sense.
Admittedly, the plot to “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” is one that horror buffs have seen before, but this film was made to be different than the run-of-the-mill fare. Excellent work by Heard, Welch, and Mount kept the film moving along, and the supporting cast has just enough fresh dialogue and personality to keep the audience interested in their fates. Stunning camerawork was used to add visual dimension to the film, and a strong score and soundtrack provided the movie with an almost hallucinatory quality. Made with a modest budget, this film delivers a truly frightening and consistently engaging viewing experience.