For my inaugural horror picture of the 2012 Halloween season I chose ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, an internet-acclaimed indie from 2006 that still hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet because it was bought by the Weinsteins, who proceeded to pull a Weinstein on it. But I rented the UK blu-ray. Rookie director Jonathan Levine went on to direct the also-pretty-good non-horror indie movie THE WACKNESS and last year’s Joseph Gordon Levitt/Seth Rogen/cancer dramedy 50/50. The titleistical Mandy Lane is Amber Heard, who has since played the hot girl in NEVER BACK DOWN, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, ZOMBIELAND, THE STEPFATHER and DRIVE ANGRY.
In DRIVE ANGRY Heard is a Daisy-Dukes-wearing hottie, but in 2006 she was 20 years old and looked very young and innocent. Mandy Lane is a cool but virginal girl who the boys of all social castes at a Texas high school have a boner for. She seems to keep to herself, not with the popular girls, but they beg her to come to parties, I guess to lure the boys for their use after she rejects them.
At first glance I didn’t think she was noticeably more attractive than the other girls. I thought the cutest one was the one that the other girls claim is fat. But then the camera lovingly embraces Mandy for a while, and she gets to be quiet while the other girls bicker and say idiotic things, and she only has to worry about brushing boys off, not desperately acting out to get their attention. So I started to believe it.
Most of the movie takes place on a rich kid’s dad’s ranch, where a group of horny popular kids are having a debaucherous weekend with only the apathetic supervision of a badass ex-Marine ranch hand named Garth (Anson Mount). There’s drinking, there’s blowjobs, there’s bitchiness and casual sexism. Sometimes it takes a turn for the Larry Clark: in a gas station bathroom the girls snort cocaine through U.S. currency and criticize one girl for having too much pubic hair. It’s an effective moment of vulnerability later on when this pretty horrible girl self-consciously trims herself. (There’s also a scene where a boy stares in a mirror and frets about his ugly chest and belly hair.)
That girl shouldn’t have taken any of that shit to heart. I mean what kind of an insult is “it’s like Sherwood Forest down there” supposed to be? Why choose that particular forest? You’re confusing the issue by making me think about Robin Hood. Sounds like you’re making some point about her cooch stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
So you got your dumb teenagers, your sex and drugs, your isolated getaway, you even have one of their vehicles parked out of reach because she didn’t want to scratch it driving on gravel. This is a classical ’80s slasher movie setup. What I like is that it does that but it doesn’t otherwise fit the idea of a “throwback.” It’s not trying to stylistically remind you of that era or subgenre. It feels very modern indie drama in its natural lighting, tastefully documentarian camera work and use of music (although come to think of it some of that is pretty TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. And it’s filmed in Texas, too).
So, eventually some people get killed, and some other people try to survive, and then you find out a little more about what’s going on. But the horror parts fill less screen time than in most horror movies. The excellent opening sequence creates an atmosphere of doom without exactly being horror, and for a long time it just glides on that. Even though these characters are mostly jerks, somehow it’s compelling enough that I didn’t really notice that nobody was stabbing anybody yet. I just gave it the benefit of the doubt that it would get to it when it felt it was necessary.
As somebody fascinated by the slasher movie traditions I was real excited in a scene where an asshole receives a blowjob from a girl and then pointedly refuses to reciprocate for her. I thought this was great, this guy was now gonna get slashed, and it was gonna be a clever reversal of the old trope where women in horror movies are violently punished for their sexuality. This guy was gonna get it for not respecting her sexuality. But the movie has no interest in such justice, it punishes both of them, the girl more graphically than the guy. Disappointing, but I guess I can’t fault it for not being meta. That’s probly a good thing.
This is just a matter of personal taste, but I tend to have more fun watching a larger-than-life horror villain. Most of the icons are literal monsters, or they wear masks, or they’re unusually physically imposing. This movie, and alot of modern movies, seem to be going for more of a “this is how real psychopaths are” approach. They’re more influenced by Columbine than by HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH. And I get how that seems like a legitimate way to make a movie more scary, but to me it takes away some of what I like about horror. Alot of the horror I love is kind of a mythic tale about good getting the shit beaten out of it by evil but crawling out alive. This is more like messy reality: people are fucked up and do fucked up things for complicated reasons that we can only somewhat understand.
Or even if they’re just a human psycho, maybe they gotta be uncomfortably funny, like the guy in WOLF CREEK. This has only one such moment, when the killer is trying to run over a victim and it cuts to the inside of the car and he’s listening to some really ridiculous dance music while he does it.
This is probly one of those movies where some will feel the ending revelation of who the killer is is a betrayal. I sort of felt that way, because here’s this girl who’s been the only likable young person in the movie and then we gotta accept that actually she’s by far the worst one. We’ve seen how she had this troubled childhood but was strong enough to live through it and be a strong and mature person – nope, actually it fucked her up far worse than any of these other idiots. I think it’s a fair plot twist, it’s not a cheat, but it’s a bummer. So I wan’t entirely on board.
But that’s a great moment when she’s standing there gripping and re-gripping the knife as the girl runs toward her, the car behind it. And you don’t really know if she’s crazy enough to think she can take on this car using a knife, or if she’s actually in on these murders like you figured she might be. It’s a great bit of suspense.
When she stabs the girl it’s not all that big of a shock. They leave the identity of the killer a mystery until the end, but they don’t try too hard to hide it. You figure okay, most likely suspect is the former friend from the beginning. They probly want you to consider the ranch hand, but you know that wouldn’t be an interesting solution to the mystery. More likely is the guy from the beginning actually being alive and coming after them for revenge, but this doesn’t seem like that kind of movie either. So yeah, it must be that kid, and I sure hope Mandy isn’t in on it too, but I’ll wait and see.
Anyway, this one’s pretty solid. Somebody should, like, release it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.