Free! Free at last! Free from the shackles of employment I braved a surprisingly chilly night to catch my first screening of TIFF. I met up with the boys as we settled down for the third Midnight Madness screening of the year, a wonderful teen movie featuring your common teen staples; drugs, booze, guns, breasts, sex, and lots and lots of blood. Is it any surprise that All The Boys Love Mandy Lane?
Mandy Lane is the object of every young man’s desire at her school. A desirable creature made all the more desirable by her inclination to lead a pure lifestyle and abstain from common teenage vices. You want what you can’t have and it drives the male teenage population around her mad. A weekend away at a classmates’ Texas ranch appears to be the perfect opportunity to crack that nut and be the first to get with Mandy. Jostling for position begins and the game is on. Unfortunately another game is being played and someone lurks in the shadows, quickly eliminating the competition. Is someone taking their affection for the lovely Mandy Lane too far?
What I liked first of all was that not in a while have I seen teenager culture captured this accurately or honestly. Imperfections abound but it doesn’t feel pasted on or attributed for the sake of helping broaden the scale of characters in the film. They’re all at once insecure, boasting false bravado and playing the games that teenagers play, oblivious to anyone else’s feelings. Amber Heard is stunning as Mandy Lane, exuding sexuality at every turn. Michael Welch accurately captures the alienated loner, Emmet. Everyone else brings a comparable contribution to the movie.
While the portrayal of teenage culture is above par sadly the elements of horror run along all too familiar lines with exception to the golden rule of horror films in relation to African-American actors. Bird, played by Edwin Hodge, does not die first, an element of the script that attracted the actor to the film right away he said during the Q&A. But the rest? Meh. The elements of horror breathe familiar and if it had not been for developments in the third act ATBLML could have been lost in horror film obscurity. I will say though that the elements of horror were punctuated more so by the excellent sound editing [if not the extremely loud sound levels in the theatre – holy crap!!!]. Sound plays more of a role in instilling horror and shock as the visuals, something that a lot of movies neglect, focusing more on visuals.
But really this movie for me was about manipulation. And that is a real horror that teenagers face every day. No one faces off with a shotgun toting psychopath every day do they? But every day they enter their schools and common places the fight for social survival can be brutal and relentless. The social hierarchy of a teenager is already a shaky ladder but when you add the heinous desire to end life and exact revenge that ladder becomes as precarious as a pair of stilts, and soon you are falling. Before you know what befell you it is already too late and you are cattle led to the slaughter. In this film that comes to be very literal. When elements of teenage manipulation happen outside of normal veins, verbal insults and mind games, and you realize that you have been outdone by a master of the craft does your world come tumbling down and in this case your life ends. Leaving this movie and reflecting on it, it made me wonder. When did this manipulation begin? Or, when did the realization of this fuller power take fruition and the devious plan begin?
I won’t give away what happens at the end of ATBLML for the sake of director Jonathan Levine and his little project. I will say that while he distracts you with the quick jabs from the right all the time the left is winding up for the takeout punch and then it quickly draws back for one last bitch slap. Follow what I mean?
Currently the film does not have a distributor but for the sake of bringing something to the horror genre with a bit of freshness to it we could use more teenage films like this that offer a sophisticated portrayal of teenagers and offer a bit more than your typical survival horror film. While not a great horror film it is a good one and worthy of your attention.