Today, Amber Heard is largely known for the media circus surrounding her defamation trial against ex-husband, Johnny Depp. Diehard DC Comics fans largely know her as Mera from the Aquaman movie and its upcoming sequel. But early in her career, Heard starred in mostly small genre movies or B-movie cult classics. Some of these roles ncluded John Carpenter’s The Ward, Nic Cage feature Drive Angry, and Machete Kills. And her first feature-length starring role was in the indie shoegaze horror, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. An under-the-radar neo-slasher that didn’t even earn a proper release for several years, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane divided critics.
Summer holidays are over and a new year is under way. Previously an unpopular wallflower, Mandy Lane catches the eye of all her male classmates. When the popular kids invite her to their pool party, Mandy Lane insists brings her best friend along. But bullying leads to a tragic accident. All of the school ostracizes Emmet and Mandy Lane finds herself being accepted into an elite inner circle. Several months later, Mandy Lane and her popular friends end the school year with a party at a secluded ranch. However, a mysterious stalker has joined the party and seems intent on taking revenge against the tight clique.
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane At Its Best When It Resists Slasher Conventions
For what’s essentially positioned as a basic slasher, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane does a few things that run counter to expectations. Initially, everything plays out like a classic slasher complete with the ‘Past Tragic Incident’. But even this part of the movie cuts a little different. There’s clear connections drawn to the Columbine shootings in how the slasher constructs the bullied Emmet. From the opening tragedy onward, director Jonathan Levine never allows the movie to devolve into the same kind of B-movie silliness that defined later 80s slashers. Instead, Levine adopts a slow-burn, almost dreamy approach to the material. Everything from the cinematography to the atmosphere feels less like a slasher, more like an indie arthouse movie.
Nevertheless, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane ultimately plays better when it’s not trying to be the typical slasher movie.
To some extent, this may be where some of the criticisms of this 2000’s neo-slasher emerge. Many of the subgenre tropes are present. While there’s a couple of brutal death scenes, Levine never fully embraces those conventions associated with the slasher. That is, Levine is oftentimes a bit too subtle for the type of movie he’s making. Nevertheless, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane ultimately plays better when it’s not trying to be the typical slasher movie. Its finale – including its twist – achieves a more emotional response than what one might be expected. And it’s closing moments, set to Bobby Vinton’s cover of ‘Sealed With a Kiss’, feels somewhat haunting.
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane May Have Been Ahead Of Its Time
At the time of its release, most critics dismissed All The Boys Love Mandy Lane as a ‘hit or miss’ slasher. Yet this may be one of those movies that has aged better than expected. Whether intended or not, writer Jacob Forman’s screenplay taps into a few issues discussed more frequently in a post #MeToo world. In particular, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane tackles the male gaze and sexualization of young women. Early scenes emphasize the extent to which young covet Heard’s ‘Mandy Lane’ with no consideration of her as a person. Even Emmet ultimately believes he can ‘possess’ his friend by killing off her other suitors. Forman’s final twist – that Mandy Lane has in fact orchestrated all of the murders – subverts the expectations of classic slashers and the Final Girl.
Whether intended or not, writer Jacob Forman’s screenplay taps into a few issues discussed more frequently in a post #MeToo world.
Given Forman’s screenplay direction, Mandy Lane by design is intended to be something of an enigma, which often ends up feelings like a blank slate. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with Amber Heard’s performance. It’s a restrained performance that doesn’t open up really until the movie’s final scenes. Even in these moments, Heard plays the character with more of a quiet venom that avoids scene chewing. Yes, Yellowstone’s Luke Grimes makes his feature film debut in All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. And Anson Mount turns up in a small red herring role before he took on the Black Bolt mantle in the MCU. Arguably, the best low key performance comes from Aaron Himelstein who somehow lends his shallow character, ‘Red’, a bit more depth than expected.
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane Proves to be Something of a Hidden Gem
At face value, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane operates like a slasher movie albeit an early one before all the tropes were crystallized. The pace here is slower, the body count lower. Levine’s approach also intentionally roots itself in atmosphere over jump scares. And Forman’s subversion of the Final Girl narrative gives this slasher a more ambitious subtext. Both Heard and Grimes have moved on to bigger things since its release. No is likely to add this one to any ‘Best Of’ list. But All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is something of a hidden gem.