In September of 2006, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane premiered as a part the Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a slasher film with a liberal dose of gore and, more importantly, a healthy dose of self-awareness. Flattering the intelligence of horror fans is a trick almost as old as, well, Scream. The exciting response to Mandy Lane encouraged a bidding war for the independent film that was ended by The Weinstein Company for $3.5 million. Happy story for a low budget slasher flick, right? Well, not exactly…
Months later, the Weinsteins got cold feet and resold the property to Senator Entertainment, which promptly went bankrupt. Thus, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane was doomed to distribution limbo, destined to be spoken of in hushed tones by horror fans while legal concerns kept the property from seeing the light of day. This Friday, Mandy Lane can finally be seen on the big screen, over seven years after its premiere at TIFF.
A lot has changed in those years. The film’s director, Jonathan Levine, used the film’s reputation to helm The Wackness, 50/50, and Warm Bodies. Amber Heard, who plays the titular Mandy Lane, has starred in a number of genre flicks, including next week’s Machete Kills. Cinema itself abandoned celluloid (almost), meaning that Mandy Lane will not be projected in its original 35mm format. Meanwhile, the film’s North American problems didn’t prevent it from being released in the UK and subsequently becoming widely available on the internet. So it’s not really a big secret.
Like most slasher films, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is about a group of ill-behaved teenagers in a secluded area (this time at a country home) getting murdered in brutal and creative ways. Mandy Lane is the requisite beautiful virgin, the target of every boy’s sexual desires. She is convinced by her sexually promiscuous friends to come along for the weekend, even if she doesn’t do drugs or boys. Speaking of the boys, the entire weekend getaway seems to have been constructed by them as a chance to sleep with Mandy, with each one calling “dibbs” on her virginity.
In Scream, Jamie Kennedy stands in front of a TV screen and lists off a series of rules for horror films. The first rule: anyone who has sex will die. In Cabin in the Woods, a bunker full of top secret government operatives are tasked with putting teenagers into a horror film situation and then making sure the token virgin either dies last, or not at all. The regressive politics of the slasher film are regularly pointed out by the genre’s smarter servings, even if rarely anything is done to change or subvert them.
It initially seems as though Levine might be attempting something subversive with Mandy Lane. The grotesque misogyny of the male characters is more overt than ever. Slasher film villains are usually figures of pure malevolence, either a literal monster or a human being turned evil by some horrific backstory. In this film, however, there’s no attempt to hide the identity of the killer, a spurned male friend of Mandy Lane who is motivated only by his own emasculating experiences at the hands of her new popular friends.
Of course, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane was made in the years before Jezebel launched, so maybe I shouldn’t have been expecting a repudiation of Hollywood’s Nice Guy problem, yet the film actually seems to be going that way. Unfortunately, it ends with a twist that, while surprising on a narrative level, reverses any subversive intentions. Levine might be conscious of the slasher genre’s cliches and conventions, but he’s indifferent to its sexual politics.
After making Mandy Lane, Levine went on to make The Wackness, which is about a nice teenage boy spurned by an insensitive female love interest, and 50/50, which is about a nice male cancer patient who has to kick a bitchy girlfriend out of his life before he can really get over his problems (ie. cancer). Sure, these sexist archetypes are commonly found in Hollywood films, but Levine’s films are especially pernicious. Perhaps I’m reading All the Boys Love Mandy Lane with more of a bias than audiences would have done seven years ago. But hey, that’s what seven years of hindsight will do.
Alan Jones writes about film for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @alanjonesxxxv.