All the Boys Love Mandy Lane belongs to my least favorite kind of movie-the slasher film, known for sexism, misogyny, and paradoxically, virginal heroines. Welcome to the “hair metal” of the horror genre. Start with subtlety, craft, plot and character development. Now gather ’em up, stuff ’em in a bag, and drown them like unwanted kittens. Take those kittens and cover them in fake blood or aqua-net, whichever you prefer. I find most slasher films to be tiresome, not because they’re an excuse for grotesque set-pieces, rather, they do so at the expense of good storytelling. Like hair metal, you have a few exceptions; works that will people will defend: films that should be, on an artistic level, taken seriously–the “Cults” and “Guns N’ Roses” of slashers if you will. The original Halloween, Nightmare on Elmstreet and Scream belong to a select group of slasher films I’ll take the time to defend on the basis of quality. Begrudgingly, I’d add All The Boys Love Mandy Lane to that list.
Why begrudgingly? I’m having difficulty making heads or tails of Mandy’s politics and whether or not the film succeeds at conveying the message. Traditionally, slasher films are viewed as conservative works. They gleefully reinforce a socially conservative status quo. Do you smoke pot? Then you deserve to die. Are you sexually active? Well slut, before you have the chance to visit Planned Parenthood, you’re gonna get chopped. Are you black? Ha! Put on a redshirt and say “yes, Captain Kirk” because Leatherface has a great big chainsaw aching for a little integration. Mandy Lane doesn’t avoid these conventions. It embraces them, binding the film to the genre.
Where Mandy Lane differs is in the details: the tiny variations that separate one genre film from another, most of which are technical in nature. Mandy Lane really is a cut above in this respect. There is a bleary-eyed sleepiness to the cinematography. Mandy Lane stayed up all night partying with friends, long before you ever showed up in the theater. Actual effort (gasp) was put into the soundtrack. It doesn’t sound like a bunch of top 40 tracks were squeezed in just because the kiddies would recognize them. The acting is serviceable to good. I know, I know, faint praise. Often slasher flicks combine a threadbare plot and bad acting, a surefire formula for unlikeable characters, which is why audiences root for the killers. In turn this makes the bitter, conservative cynicism the genre espouses taste like cherry jolly ranchers. Nobody likes obnoxious teenagers. Nobody likes entitled assholes. Everyone likes to see them suffer.
It’s this entitlement, though, that distinguishes All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. Amber Heard plays the title character, a combination of virginal girl and unattainable beauty queen. And yes, all the boys really do love her. They’re dying over the must-have Mandy. What I find provocative in the comings and goings of these aged-up high schoolers is that sense of entitlement the boys feel. They try to claim her. The boys act as if owed a piece of hot Mandy action for no other reason than they are heterosexual males. Even the token pot-head, typically a laid back beta, Red, has the markings of a wanna-be douchebag alpha. He asked Mandy to his parents’ place, after all, so he should be first line to tap that booty.
The film is aware of the characters’ entitlement. The other girls in the film are aware of it. What I find problematic is whether or not the film actually says anything beyond this. Does it make any judgement? Does it ever say that male entitlement is bad or does it side with the douchebags? Is the truth hidden in the tea leaves of the kills? In the film’s best murder sequence, Bird, the token African American, is blinded in a nasty fashion. Is he being punished for giving Mandy the male gaze treatment, or for being black, or both? (And that name, “Bird”…Predator? Prey?) It’s an allegorical moment in a film that succumbs to the slasher genre’s nihilistic tendencies, yet one that provokes discussion.
I don’t have the answers after one viewing. What I do have is an appreciation for how profoundly difficult it is to make a slasher film that doesn’t make ME want to go out on a killing spree. Now, do I like the film enough to watch it three or four times? Well, I didn’t at the beginning of this review, but I find the sexual politics of horror absolutely fascinating, sooooo I might watch it two times, three times tops. If you don’t find this stuff fascinating and are just looking for a good scare; by all means, grab some popcorn, suck down on a coke, and check this film out.
By: David Arroyo