Judge Gordon Sullivan's favorite art film is Bucket of Blood.
It's the kind of party where everyone gets wasted.
The first crop of slashers in the late seventies and early eighties was really kind of sui generis. Sure, a lot of those slasher copied each other, or tried to one-up each other, but there are very few prior influences we can point to specifically. Then the next generation, post-Scream, seemed to be looking only at past slashers and nothing else; that's why so many of them are so self-referential. In the twenty-first century, though, we now have filmmakers who were raised on slashers, and slashers are just one of a number of influences. That seems to be the case with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, a slasher that's as much an art house picture as it is a horror film. Filmmaker Jonathan Levine made Mandy Lane as his first feature, but his genre hopping since then demonstrates the wealth of influences on his work. He made a period comedy (The Wackness), a cancer comedy (50/50), and a zombie rom-com (Warm Bodies) after Mandy Lane failed to get U.S. distribution. Now it's seeing release as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Blu-ray), and if the phrase "art house slasher" appeals to you, Mandy Lane will satisfy.
Facts of the Case
Mandy Lane (Amber Heard, Zombieland) is the virginal high school girl that all the boys want to have sex with. None of them, however, can seal the proverbial deal. Though Mandy long ago blossomed physically, she's just starting to figure things out socially. Moving out of her comfort zone, she agrees to a weekend of drinking and drugs with her fellow high schoolers. They're still all trying to sleep with her, but someone is also picking them off, one by one.
To the best of my knowledge, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is the first film that can be described as an art house slasher. In his commentary, Levine notes that he's not really making a slasher film. Instead, that's the hook that drags audiences along for his slow exploration of teenage gender constructions. That means we get a lot of dialogue scenes that play out much longer than their standard genre counterparts, as characters talk rather than move straight to sex or death. The film is shot differently than most slasher flicks as well; we get a lot of shallow-focus shots that last much longer than the cut-heavy shots in the standard slasher. Perhaps the most surprising thing about All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is that it's downright beautiful in many respects. The color scheme is slightly desaturated, and the image is grain heavy, giving many shots a wonderfully pictorial look. The comparisons to Terrence Malick are not inappropriate, as Levine shares with Malick an attention to landscape and letting the camera seem like its following the characters rather than a pre-approved plan.
The film's other strength is Amber Heard's performance as Mandy Lane. The film was shot in 2006, before Heard made a name for herself in Pineapple Express, Zombieland, or The Rum Diary. Though I don't think her performance has the sheer magnetic quality the role could benefit from, she does embody the blossoming young girl testing her limits. It's an impressive performance that showcases her talents. The rest of the cast are slightly more forgettable, but since they're supposed to play teenage stereotypes that's not terribly surprising.
Though it took over six years for All the Boys Love Mandy Land (Blu-ray) to be released, it was worth the wait. The film's 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is simply gorgeous. Detail is strong throughout, and grain from the 16mm source is especially well-rendered, with lots of object detail and little noise. The film's slightly unnatural color scheme is also well-represented, and black levels are surprisingly deep and stable for 16mm cinematography. It's not a reference-quality presentation due to the limitations of low-budget 16mm shooting, but this is as good as the film can look on home video, and that's not a slight at all. The film's DTS-HD 5.1 surround track lives up to the visuals. Dialogue is always clean and clear from the front, and the surrounds are filled with atmospheric sounds that help establish the party and the isolation of Mandy's companions.
The set's lone extras is a commentary from Levine. He's understandably proud of his achievement, and spends the entire run time telling stories from the shoot, discussing his inspiration, and some of the problems the film encountered. It's engaging and informative, and works well in the absence of more robust materials.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Watching All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, I'm reminded of the moment in 10 Things I Hate About You when the protagonists have explained their elaborate plan to get Heath Ledger's character to ask out someone's older sister so the hero can go out with her younger sister. His question is something like, "What does this chick have beer flavored nipples or something?" I had the same feeling of disbelief with Amber Heard as Mandy Lane. It was never particularly convincing that she'd have the eye of every boy in school, becoming an obsession. It's not a problem with her performance per se, she just doesn't have the straight-up magnetic screen presence that it would take to be convincing as the object of so much lust.
There are moments of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane that remind me of Harmony Korine's later Spring Breakers. Both films share a desire to mix violence with the typical teenage experience. Both are also willing to linger lovingly on scenes of teen debauchery, as if showing the ugliness of teens drinking, smoking, and making out with beautiful shots could redeem them. The analogy breaks down somewhat, however, because Spring Breakers seems to have something to say with its combination of stylistic and commercial excess. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane gives us beautiful, lingering shots of teenagers before they're killed in slasher fashion, but I can't quite figure out what the film is trying to say with that combination. Maybe some viewers will be okay with the film's combination of images and story, but those looking for the deeper insight promised by the art house approach may be disappointed.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is an unconventional slasher. If the idea of an art house approach to the horror genre sounds like a good idea, this one will satisfy. Those looking for another remix of the same old elements will probably be disappointed. In either case, the film is worth at least a rental for adventurous viewers, and a strong presentation makes it easy to recommend.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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