And who can blame them? Mandy (Amber Heard) is a teen dream: A long-distance runner, friend to all and kind to her unpopular best friend Emmet (Michael Welch). Red (Aaron Himelstein) explains: "Since the dawn of Junior year, men have tried to possess her ... and failed." All the Boys Love Mandy Lane opens at a pool party, where an effort to catch Mandy's eye turns from hijinks to homicide; jumping 9 months later, Mandy seems a little haunted -- and distant from Emmet.
But Mandy has plenty of friends, and takes off for a weekend ranch getaway at Red's dad's place, along with bad-boy Jake (Luke Grimes), blonde, brittle Chloe (Whitney Able), party-girl Marlin (Melissa Price) and nice-guy athlete, Bird (Edwin Hodge). It's gonna be a good time -- until the group of six realize that someone's turned dreams of Mandy into their nightmare. There's no cell reception; they're in the middle of nowhere; they're partying hard ... and then the killing begins, transforming All the Boys Love Mandy Lane into the best modern slasher flick since Scream. In fact, I like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane a little more than Scream -- All the Boys may be knowing and post-modern as it begs, borrows and steals from films like Prom Night, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (as well as non-genre films like Dazed and Confused and Mean Girls), but it never winks at the camera.
Director Jonathan Levine and writer Jacob Foreman obviously know -- and love -- horror, but they're also interested in a few other things: The fierce competition of high school sexual gamesmanship, the way desire can turn from passionate intent to homicidal pre-meditation. And Levine knows and understands his visual palate as well: Every shot of Mandy has the gentle fuzzy glow of an exquisitely shot shampoo commercial, a cloud of projected desire fuzzing the lens, while later moments under the killing-time sun have the grainy pop and bleached, burnt feel of '70s exploitation murder films. (And the killer's garb -- slouched in a hoodie and strapped with carrying bags for the tools of death -- evokes the Columbine massacre too firmly for that to be accidental.)
Much like this year's Brick, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane was made by filmmakers young enough to remember just how scary high school can be, and more than talented enough to bring a nightmare exploration of that fact to real big screen. The cast is excellent, including Anson Mount as Garth, the ranch hand (and the film gets plenty of comedy mileage out of the phrase 'ranch hand,' rest assured). Heard has the trickiest role to pull off, and she does -- Mandy's neither a party girl nor a prude, approachable but distant, immediately familiar but still capable of surprising both her friends and us. Parts of All the Boys are truly terrifying; some parts of it are disgusting; then again, so is murder. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is funny, fresh and knowingly retro, but it also knows all those elements are just sizzle; it also serves up a nice, bloody horror film with no apologies and plenty of surprises.
For more on Mandy Lane, check out James Rochhi's interview with the Midnight Madness crowd waiting to get into the film.