The film’s synopsis reads like a straightforward thriller, but All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) is so ambiguous in its formatting that it can’t be classified as straight horror, a teen slasher, a mystery, or drama; if anything, Jacob Forman’s script unravels like a docu-drama about deeply disturbed teens and a killer’s plot to make headlines by creating a micro-Columbine massacre.
Forman’s dialogue is pretty loose and casual, and when realized by the film’s able cast, for a while the film feels like a naturalistic teen coming-of-age drama, although even when the killing begins, rather than have surviving characters morph into disposable cardboard twits and bimbos, they evolve: rivalries disappear, and victims of ridicule and their arrogant tormentors start to bond, because by the next morning, there’s an understanding between the small group that all the pettiness and clique behaviours are irrelevant when the group’s life is at risk.
The teens’ clique-talk and crude sexual jabs between the girls are very evocative of Michael Lehman and Daniel Waters’ Heathers (1989), but again that’s where Forman and director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) seemed to realize dwelling on those specific elements would alter their film’s ambiguous design into a black comedy, which Many Lane isn’t.
The killings bear the style and rage of a slasher, but there’s also an undercurrent of payback and sadism that’s evident in some shots which director Levine holds just long enough for slasher fans to realize these deaths aren’t meant to be wholly satirical. Levin and writer Forman also reveal the killer’s identity around the midpoint, so the film is more about the source of the rage that’s fuelling the pre-planned mayhem.
The element of danger is also kept to the margins for quite a while, and the filmmakers prefer to construct a contrast between the killings and an emerging, substantive discourse among the teens: as another jock or princess leaves the house (and dies), peer pressure wanes further, and those still alive feel a little more comfortable about themselves, and start to confess personal misgivings that shatter their sexual prowess or hierarchal position in the group – qualities they flaunted before the first person went missing.
The filmmakers provide a twist reveal of sorts in the final act – some may pick up on it early into the narrative, and others may not until a specific action occurs – but the reasoning for the whole mayhem, extending far back to a death in the film’s first act, is never really clarified, and that lack of a clear resolution will have viewers head-scratching, discoursing, praising or perhaps dismissing the film as inconsistent and half-hearted.
Levine’s approach doesn’t mimic any specific director or classic film per se; the stunning 2.35:1 cinematography, freeze edits and montages have a dreamy feel that are more reminiscent of seventies dramas, particularly the dissolves and musical montages - the latter often underscored with late sixties/seventies songs. Mark Schulz’ sparse cues (and notably the music over the End Credits) also marry contemporary minimalism and the spacey ambiances and rhythms of Pink Floyd (notably the mellow cues for the group’s Zabriskie Point score).
What’s intriguing about Mandy Lane is what’s not indulged by the filmmakers; the gore isn’t the star, the teens don’t have raunchy sex, a flash of nudity emphasizes desperation and hypocrisy. There are some dumb character moves – a couple indulging in a kiss meters from their escape vehicle is contrived – but it’s the mood and the unex[ected scenes where the characters share some introspection with each other – a tactic that makes their demises far more potent and unsettling that a standard hack-and-slash.
Also notable among the film’s left turns is the characterization of local ranch hand Garth (Tully’s Anson Mount), who isn’t a redneck sleaze-bucket determined to screw teen girls; introduced as a red herring/fake killer, he’s quickly disqualified after some montages, and functions as a babysitter; he’s a moral guy, and the one virile male the titular heroine allows to ogle and converse with for more than a handful of sentences – something Many denies each of the jocks that have gathered that night with a goal to pop her cherry.
Is the film about shattering genre archetypes? A rebellious tale of a loner seeking to break or end the clique behaviour that’s caused years of torment? Or a Columbine parable that transgresses into popular genres, but reels back to maintain enough ambiguity so audiences can fill in their own blanks?
When the film makes its DVD debut in Region 1 land, people can make their own judgements.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan