Shot four years ago, “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” has been trapped in theatrical release stasis and it’s pretty easy to see why: the picture is dreadful. Cluttered with obnoxious CW-scented teen characterizations, cartoonish parades of clumsy adolescent lust, and fruitless stabs of suspense, “Mandy Lane” is a rotten idea all around, sluggishly executed by director Jonathan Levine, who went on to infuse his dismal 2008 feature “The Wackness” with the same hot flashes of irritatingly exaggerated behaviors and self-conscious filmmaking accouterments.
Returning to her junior year of high school, Mandy Lane (Amber Heard, “Pineapple Express”) has blossomed into a gorgeous young woman, leaving the majority of the student body in heat when she walks by. Abandoning her nerdy male best friend for a popular clique, Mandy is ushered into a world of promiscuity, drugs, and jealousies that force her to fight to preserve her virginal purity. Off on a party weekend to a remote farm, Mandy and her boorish friends encounter a series of strange occurrences and disappearances, with a suspicious ranch hand (Anson Mount) keeping an eye on the group from afar. Still wallowing in the chemical excess, the teens find a stranger picking them off one-by-one in the night, leaving Mandy to process the panic and plan her escape.
Though crafted with a customary slasher film mentality, “Mandy Lane” is more captivated with the rice paper psychology of its nauseating characters. This being Levine’s first feature film, there’s an aggravatingly permissive behavior with the cast on display. Levine relies on these brutal acting novices to convey an impression of juvenile excess and teen superiority, using long takes of the cast feeling around the dialogue to sniff out their own sense of reality to the scene. Trouble is, nobody here can act, and the loose atmosphere encourages the ensemble to demand shadings that aren’t there. Screenwriter Jacob Foreman is more interested in beating this teen shallowness into the ground instead of intricately tying interior discontent to the squeeze of peer pressure. The dialogue is often contrived and bellowed like a sitcom, treating the characters like cartoons to make obvious points.
Visually, “Mandy Lane” fares somewhat better. Cinematographer Darren Genet goes for a blown-out scorching summertime look that recalls “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” though Levine does his best to ruin the effect through hacky editorial and framing decisions. “Mandy Lane” looks superb at times, easily besting the content. Perhaps it’s a film best viewed on mute.
Of course, with a low-budget, an abysmal cast, and a first time filmmaker, there’s going to be a twist to the material. Levine reveals his cards early on, ruining the surprise to a certain extent, rendering the actual running time a long countdown to a foregone conclusion. However, scares and depth seem to come secondary on Levine’s list of priorities with “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.” More interested in ogling Heard, providing a forum for miserable screenwriting, and testing out overused visual decoration, Levine never challenges the genre, instead resting contentedly on a cinematic endeavor we’ve all seen a thousand times before.