Dash, slash, slice, dice.
In the Eighties, an exhaustive sequence of increasingly reductive slasher movies ended up battering the genre's conventions to a pulp so bloodily non-distinct that it seemingly defied all resuscitation (not that this stopped Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and their ilk endlessly returning from the grave). Hardened slasher fans were left to lick their wounds and seek consolation in the vast back-catalogue of more sophisticated Italian gialli - and then, in the mid-nineties, Wes Craven revived the whole genre with the knowing pastiche Scream (1996), until his postmodern antics were themselves so relentlessly replicated by other, inferior films that the slasher ended up eating itself. What next?
Jonathan Levine's All The Boys Love Mandy Lane offers one kind of reprieve for the moribund genre. Sure, it features a familiar ensemble of precocious teens dying one by one, sure it has its fair share of slightly tired post-Scream self-referentiality ("we agreed to an R-rating, remember", as one character says when the language starts getting a bit blue), and sure it offers a 'twist' ending that any connoisseur will see coming a mile off - but it makes up for all this with its own rigorously high aesthetic standards and fine performances, as well as with thematic concerns that venture into territories every bit as unexplored and virginal (at least for the genre) as the titular 'final girl'.
While her contemporaries seek their teen kicks with all the predictability of adolescence, blonde beauty Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) remains something of an enigma - untouched, aloof, inaccessible - which of course makes everyone desire her all the more, and even leads one reckless jock in the opening scene accidentally to kill himself in his headlong pursuit of her affections. Six months later, Mandy is persuaded to join five of her schoolmates for a weekend of partying at an isolated ranch, with only the older farmhand Garth (Anson Mount) on site as their reluctant babysitter. As usual, all have their eyes on Mandy, but outside there is someone else watching and waiting, with designs that are far more murderously complicated than your average teen erotic chase.
The first thing you notice about All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is the way that it looks. Its dreamily hyper-real, bleached-out photography belies the film's low budget, and seems more akin to Sofia Coppola's debut The Virgin Suicides (1999) than to any murder-by-numbers horror. This is hardly coincidence, for while viewers will soon be treated to the sort of gory deaths that are the slasher's flesh and bone, at heart All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is as concerned with the blank disaffection of youth as with the mechanics of inventive killing - like a slasher flick filtered through Tim Hunter's The River's Edge (1986) or Larry Clark's Kids (1995).
Chloe (Whitney Able), Red (Aaron Himelstein), Bird (Edwin Hodge), Jake (Luke Grimes) and Merlin (Melissa Price) may all end up mere lambs for the slaughter - but not before we have learnt of their various issues with body fat, pubic hair, breast and penis size, as each struggles to conform to their own peer-imposed standards of perfection, so easily projected onto a cipher like Mandy. They are assassinating one another's self-esteem long before the actual killings begin, making this a study of everyday adolescent competition, manipulation and bullying where the stakes just happen to be murderously real.
Of course you can find this sort of material in any teen comedy or drama, but the innovation is all in the generic mix, making All The Boys Love Mandy Lane to the slasher film what Brick (2005) was to Chandleresque film noir. After all, with teenagers, there will always come a time when innocence must be lost - but Levine's film transfixes this moment with the sharpness of a razor.