Functioning more like an ode to slasher grindhouse pictures of yesteryear than an actual modern day fright fest, “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” is a one-note retelling of a very familiar tale. Filmed way back in 2006 but finally getting a theatrical release date this Friday, the Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) helmed movie is as run-of-the-mill now as it was last decade. As an exercise in cinema development, however, “Mandy Lane” at least shows the tremendous strides Levine has made as a filmmaker.
As far as story is concerned, the title says it all. Whether she is the cheerleading captain, soccer star, or even the president of the National Honor Society, no high school is complete without a female that drives her XY-chromosome classmates crazy. “All The Boys Love Many Lane” tells the story of that person: Mandy Lane (Amber Heard).
For all intents and purposes, Mandy is a good girl. Unlike the new group of friends she makes after suddenly blossoming into a full-fledged bombshell over the summer, Mandy doesn’t snort coke or take Adderall. She doesn’t have underage sex or even drink that much. Joining her friends for a weekend retreat to a secluded ranch, Mandy’s virginal, goodie-goodie attitude is put to the ultimate test. An evil past haunts her, and it will kill everything that gets in its way.
Sound familiar? That’s because this set up has been rehashed, repurposed, and retread countless times in the horror genre. Just as in other scary camping tales like “Cabin Fever” and “The Evil Dead”, we are introduced to certain characters that seem destined to die and others that appear to be survivors. Everyone that Mandy ventures into the woods with is begging to die. The bitchy Chloe (Whitney Able), the perverted Emmet (Michael Welch), the token black guy Bird (Edwin Hodge), the druggie Red (Aaron Himelstein), and the overly promiscuous Marlin (Melissa Price) are each oozing with horror clichés. And guess what? As the narrative progresses, all of these expectations are confirmed. No twists. No turns. Nothing new.
What does come as a surprise, is the sporadic art-house imagery cinematographer Darren Genet (About Cherry) presents. Temporarily disrupting Jacob Forman’s lackluster screenwriting debut, Genet cleverly contorts a simple party scene or casual smoke session into a complex, psychedelic cinematic affair.
Unfortunately, no amount of sophisticated camera angles can heighten the otherwise abysmal acting of the film’s stars. Leading the charge, Amber Heard fails to exhibit even a modicum of emotional throughout the entire picture. Okay, I get it. I completely understand that Mandy Lane is supposed to be a deeply complex character that represents obsession, but I mean come on. Genet could have written in at least a little bit of character development. She is our protagonist after all. It’s almost impossible to connect to someone that has about as much personality as an overstuffed throw pillow.
“All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” wants to be much more than simple genre fare. Flashy cinematography, an overall ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ message, and a few unique character moments gives the audience a tiny glimmer that there is a beating heart hidden somewhere in this mess of a movie. Sadly, B-grade acting and a slew of schlocky banalities effectively beat the life out that microscopic soul.
Do yourself a favor, skip this pic and go watch “Warm Bodies.” Actually, check out any other Jonathan Levine film because his much belated directorial premiere does not fully reflect the auteur the man is today.
By David Morris