Sometimes, the story behind a film is more lively than the movie itself. In other instances, pre and post production history do little except amplify expectations that should be kept nice and moderate. In the case of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, horror fans have wondered just how great/bad/controversial/clueless the end result must be if The Weinstein Company sat on the final cut for nearly seven years. If it was awful, why release it at all? If it’s good, what was all the fuss about? Well, the answer appears to be as complicated as one’s eventual reaction to Jonathan Levine’s quasi-reinvention of the slasher genre.
Made back in 2006 and shown around the festival circuit around then, Mandy Lane was supposed to be released under Uncle Harvey’s Dimension banner, but when Grindhouse tanked, the company got cold feet. It sold the film off to something called Senator Entertainment. That company folded and the movie stayed in limbo (it got a cursory European release in 2008) until Weinstein bought it back. In the meantime, Levine rebounded from such a setback with The Wackness, 50/50 and the zombie romantic comedy Warm Bodies, a rarity among those who’ve felt Harvey Scissorhands’ wrath and still prospered.
So, the question becomes, was it worth it? Does all that time and hand-wringing warrant a firm recommendation, or a solid rejection? Well, the answer is a bit of both. Amber Heard is the title character, an outsider at her high school who is witness to a tragedy. Along with her best friend Emmet (Michael Welsh), she’s at a party where a classmate dies. This radically alters her perspective and, within months, Mandy has become one of the “popular” girls. When one of her new friends (Aaron Himelstein) invites her out to his father’s farm, we get the setup for another bit of splattery slice and dice. While a red-herring of a hired hand (Anson Mount) roams around, looking guilty, Mandy’s buddies are killed off one by one, and it appears the murderer is doing so in dedication to our pretty blonde babe.
As much a comment on the cinematic category he’s working within as it is an example of same, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane sees Levine looking for the creative respect he would eventually receive almost a decade later. This movie has all the earmarks of a man trying to break free from the pack, to differentiate himself from the norm just enough to avoid repeat showings on Fear.Net, Chiller, or–worse–SyFy. That he succeeds more than he fails is part of Mandy Lane‘s charm. It’s nice to see a horror film which doesn’t try to reinvent the tropes completely. Instead, Levine tweaks them, using Heard’s obvious good looks and the reaction to them to turn our attention away from possible suspects.
Even better, the movie recognizes why we fright fans fell in love with the hidden killer conceit decades ago. Levine does a fine job of building suspense, never forgetting to stay one or two steps ahead of an audience already clued in to the mechanics of such macabre. Sure, we end up with something akin to a stylized Friday the 13th, but when you consider the crap that usually comes out under the creepshow heading, Mandy Lane almost matches its mythos. Almost. Don’t get the wrong idea. This isn’t a masterpiece, just a well made effort by someone who seemingly understands the pros and cons of how to deliver the shivers.
Most times, when a movie has sat on a shelf for several years, it’s because its potential with viewers is far outweighed by how laughably awful or misguided it is. In the case of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, it’s the film that’s fine. It’s a less than stellar industry’s fault for keeping it buried for so long.