All the boys love Mandy Lane. Well, why wouldn’t they? She’s a high school student of the impossibly gorgeous type you only find in movies: slim, wholesomely pretty, with long, artfully tousled blonde hair, she’s also alluringly innocent. At parties, she doesn’t drink or do drugs; she’s unwilling to flaunt herself in a bikini, preferring to stay covered up; oh, and she’s a virgin. She’s perfect yet unattainable – just the combination to send hormonal teenage boys into a right old tizzy. But loving Mandy comes at a price: one particularly insistent suitor has already turned himself into a corpse trying to impress her. When Mandy’s new friends invite her to a sleepover party at a secluded ranch, you just know their life expectancy has just plummeted spectacularly; this is a teen horror movie, after all.
Well, sort of. All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is a strange movie in a lot of ways. It’s a lot cleverer than most of its contemporaries in a lot of ways, except when it isn’t, and the eventual stupidity seems more glaring because the film started off so strongly. The first scene is absolutely brilliant: perfectly put together, establishing its characters well, particularly Mandy’s chillingly cruel best friend, and that first death brought my heart into my mouth. That kind of dread in a teen horror movie is hard to come by in an age where audiences routinely clap and cheer at the gory deaths of onscreen teenagers, and that it came so early in the movie suggested that this was a film made by a man who knew what he was doing. And for the most part, he does.
The film’s main characters fit neatly into your standard teen stereotypes, but they’re all fairly well drawn nonetheless. The only one who’s difficult to fathom is Mandy; we’re never allowed into her mind, never allowed to know what she’s thinking. She’s as unattainable to us as she is to the boys trying to get into her pants, and the film does a good job of drawing us into the high school politics. (Though the opening shot which focuses on Mandy’s breasts is a little hamfisted, really.)
Other good things about this movie include its intelligence (with some caveats, but I’ll come to those later); the dialogue is good, the set ups believeable, and there are plenty of knowing nods to horror movie conventions. Rather than flaunting them in a desperately post-modern kind of a way, these nods are mostly unobtrusive; just brief acknowledgements of the conventions before Mandy Lane neatly overturns them. The film’s visual style – sort of deliberately unpolished, slightly aged – is nice; it’s not too glossy, not too show-offy, but not cheap either. The director clearly has an eye for composition, setting up plenty of shots that just beg to be screencapped. Everything seems to be going really, really well – there’s a compelling story, there are believeable characters, and there’s some really inventive gore – and then you hit the ending. And it all sort of falls apart.
The twist is, admittedly, pretty obvious from quite early on. There’s no mystery to who’s committing the murders (and I’ll have to tread carefully here if I don’t want to give too much away) but the final scenes just don’t really make sense. The groundwork has been laid, but there’s something missing; something that just doesn’t work. It’s baffling, because the rest of the film is so careful, so measured, but ultimately there’s a pretty big piece missing from this puzzle. Which is frustrating, because Mandy Lane could have been brilliant. There’s an ending available that could have worked much better, and been far more powerful, but instead things just get … well, ridiculous. The final showdown is so stupid it hurts, and I just wanted to excise it from the film entirely. It’s like a scene from another, far more stupid film accidentally got slipped into the last reel, and if only I could unsee it, I could endorse All The Boys Love Mandy Lane more fully. As it is, it’ll have to be filed in the “promising failures” box. Shame.