At the start of her junior year in high school, Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) suddenly becomes the most popular girl at school. It's not because she's part of the "in crowd," a cheerleader, fashionably dressed or dating the quarterback. In fact, she used to be an outsider, one of the loners, least popular and rarely noticed by anyone. She's popular now simply because she finally developed over the summer and is the prettiest, or as the kids would say, the "hottest." While every boy drools over her and wants to be with her, every girl wishes they could look anything like her. A slow-motion tracking shot of Mandy walking down the hallway as eyes gaze with dumbfounded scrutiny perfectly encapsulates this sentiment.
That opening shot in 'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane' is one of several excellent moments throughout Jonathan Levine's otherwise by-the-numbers, largely uninspiring and ultimately humdrum horror thriller. Working closely with cinematographer Darren Genet, the picture is intended to look aged, the palette a tad faded and yellowish, and contrast running hotter than normal — in some cases, almost to the extreme. It's a unique visual aesthetic that reminds of cheaply-made exploitation films, early "slasher" horror and especially Tobe Hooper's 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' Camera movements are also meant to imitate those movies, however, with a more fluid, competent and skilled deliberateness.
Unfortunately, despite its stylized appeal and attempt at returning to genre basics, the movie is trapped in the middle, possibly growing into a cult horror-hound favorite, or soon to be forgotten for doing little else than appealing to a small, devoted audience. Given the project's distribution issues and history, the 2006 film, finally seeing the light of day in the U.S. home market, appears to live on, and pretty much survive, comfortably in that spot. The camerawork and aesthetic, promising of Levine's talent which led to more widely favored and familiar '50/50' and 'Warm Bodies,' is much too savvy and technical for the general public, yet the film as a whole is too plain, simple and uncomplicated for the arthouse crowd.
For the most part, and especially due to the technical aspects of the production, 'Mandy Lane' comes with just enough entertainment value to sit through it until the end. Things slow down, however, when the story changes settings to a remote cattle ranch belonging to Red (Aaron Himmelstein), one of three horny boys keen on hooking up with Mandy. The other two are Bird (Edwin Hodge) and Jake (Luke Grimes) while a pair of cheerleaders, Chloe (Whitney Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price), sit in the sidelines impatiently waiting for the rejects. Although the gore is quite graphic and gruesome, there is a good deal of jabbering teenage nonsense and drama to weigh the plot down and make the kills only mildly interesting with very little suspense, frights or payoff.
After a while, the 90-minute runtime starts to drag considerably, and the second half is spent looking at the clock, waiting for the next kill and the inevitable reveal in the final minutes. By the way, the surprise twist comes with almost no shock value, as it's easy to guess once the killer is exposed halfway through. It doesn't help the cast's acting falls below par, aided by Heard's equally average performance which is little more than a prettier version of Kristen Stewart. The hunky but incredibly wooden farm hand (Anson Mount) toys with heroic possibilities, yet adds nothing to the overall story. Michael Welch's Emmet, Mandy's best friend, is arguably the most memorable character, but is sadly given little screen time.
In the end, I'm left wondering why 'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay and Starz Home Entertainment brings 'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc housed inside the standard blue keepcase. After several skippable trailers, viewers are taken to a menu screen with music and full-motion clips.
'Mandy Lane' isn't particularly loved on Blu-ray, but she is very well-liked with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that keeps to the heavily-stylized, "grindhouse" aesthetic intended by the filmmakers. Darren Genet's cinematography, for the most part, looks great, but frankly, it's not the sort to yield the best HD results. Contrast is noticeably boosted with whites that run hot, causing severe blooming and clipping of the highlights. This affects overall definition somewhat, as a variety of fine lines are either washed out or the entire picture simply looks soft. However, few sharp sequences remind viewers they're watching the movie in high-definition. Brightness levels are also affected, coming in blacker than black and showing only decent detailing in the shadows. Colors rarely appear accurate, but the palette is fairly bold and vibrant while flesh tones look healthy and appropriate. In the end, the 2.40:1 image is quite strong and sure to please fans.
The prettiest girl at school arrives at the party with a satisfying and engaging DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that keeps the music bumping and the action exciting. A wide, welcoming soundstage displays plenty of off-screen action convincingly and with rich, accurate acoustical detailing. Dynamic range is extensive and room-penetrating, offering excellent differentiation between a surprising variety of noises, especially during those scenes with loud gunshots. Speaking of which, low-frequency effects are highly-responsive and palpable, mostly in the mid region, with one or two moments that reach a tad deeper than others. Meanwhile, vocals remain intelligible and precise in the center throughout. Although much of the action is front-heavy, there are several scenes with great atmospherics spreading into the rear and expand the soundfield to deliver an entertaining lossless mix.
Jonathan Levine's stylized horror thriller 'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane' has its appeal and its moments, but in the end, the story is dragged by a great deal of high school drama. Since its distribution-rights fiasco, the movie has garnered a following and seems to be on its way to becoming a cult favorite, though there's nothing particularly special about it. Finally finding its way into the U.S. home video market, the Blu-ray arrives with a strong picture quality and an excellent audio presentation, but supplements are sorely lacking. Nonetheless, the fans will be satisfied, but the curious will want to give it a rent before deciding on a purchase.