All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Jonathan Levine, 2008)

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Strange evocations… memories and dreams… dissipated and scattered… they run through the flickering images, all at once familiar, but somehow fresh, as if I’m seeing them for the first time. A pause is taken between words; it feels like an eternity. The characters fill the air with sound, because in silence we reveal too much of ourselves. From a young age, we understand talking as a means of hiding yourself, an elusive way of diverting attention away from your eyes and feelings. Then, once we have the need for words, they have already lost all meaning, and we cannot say what we mean… the silence becomes deafening.

A pretentious ramble for a pretentious film, but that isn’t to say I didn’t adore it. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is an over stylized and over thought horror film that makes me weak at the knees. It’s critics call it an feature length music video, perhaps omitting so much of the intelligence, and surprising tenderness the film inspires, as well as that seems to be the point.

The film strikes me as a cross between a Malick film and Death Proof, polishing it’s grimy locale with a sparkled aesthetic. I suppose I could understand why some would find it grating, it seems self-indulgent and absurdly self-aware. Yet, for me, that intense attempt at beauty seems self-reflective of the teenage psyche, and aids the film in its deconstruction of slasher norms. The film, especially, seems to take a good hard look at the perception and objectification of women in the horror sub-genre, revealing deep rooted insecurities in the female characters. Any action that can be perceived as being bitchy or slutty, is often counteracted with another moment of vulnerability; the inequality of sex, obsessions over personal appearance and a desire to be wanted or perceived as beautiful. Amidst the debauchery, we feel as though these moments of soul exposure are real, and it takes all the pleasure away from the murders.

As much pleasure I took in watching the characters be murdered in interesting ways in Sorority Row, here they inspired an aching disgust. The motivation and deaths themselves, remind me of experiences best left forgotten, and I think this is not a stretch of the imagination. I think it is aiming to create an incredible sense of dread and disgust. As beautiful as everything is, the deaths are not poetic, nor are they fun. You want to turn away, because as careless and annoying as these characters can be, they are understood as being human. I don’t think this film tries to have its cake and eat it too. I don’t see it as exploiting either sex or violence as a means to titillate and “moralize”, it stands somewhere in between.

Quite honestly, I don’t know why this film hit such a powerful chord. It’s a strange film, and I’m not even sure if it’s a great one. I find if endlessly appealing though, strikingly creative, and always surprising. I’m still not quite sure what to make of the ending, but the way it reeks of desperation (on the parts of the characters rather than the filmmakers), wins me over, despite the fact that it seems like an unprecedented shift in many respects. Perhaps I’m too easily swayed by style, but… the way we see our dreams, is often just, if not more interesting than the content of them… or something!

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One response to “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Jonathan Levine, 2008)

  1. I’ve never heard of this film, and from what you describe it sounds excitingly evocative,yet impossible to imagine what is “up with it”.

    I’m grateful that you haven’t spilled any beans here, since so often I sadly skim your essays when I haven’t seen the film in discussion and want to preserve the mystery (hence I stopped after your first 2 paragraphs on The Bird with the Crystal Plummage, which you excitingly evoke in the same sort of terms I experience for really great, absorbing horror films).

    You’ve often included reveries on the sexual politics of horror films, and I sense some ambivalence in your notice on that sorority movie and Rabid & this. I’ve often thought that current feminism’s preoccupation with extending sisterhood to the promiscuous (reclaiming the Slut, as it were) as opposed to ‘perversity’ (working on queer sexuality, sex toys and whatnot) has become mind-deadening, in something of the same sense that Camille Paglia or Germaine Greer might suggest [not absolutely though!] that sluttiness in general is mind-numbing. That, coupled with what has always seemed to me the aesthetic truth that horror, in its broadest conception (the one that includes Hamlet and Macbeth, say, or the Last Judgments of Michelangelo or Rubens] commingles violation of all sorts– the violations of moral norms in violence and ‘deviant’ sexuality, and the forms of violation most awful to us all, namely, the ones that *combine* violence and sexuality– have made me feel pretty at-ease with horror’s routine commingling of sex and death. These seem to me to go ‘hand-in-hand’ insofar as I feel their juxtaposition is valid (based on the above calculations) and too because I feel it’s kind of a bourgeois flake-out to insist, as some do, that sex should be treated imaginatively as an always-benign, equitable, peaceful sort of affair. When Hitchcock or Argento externalize the avenging angels of guilt, I feel like they’re getting at something very true, even if it’s not the same as societally-imposed guilt (or even if some people would read those films as goads to *impose* guilt by societal means!). And then, horror can give us the kind of doomy eroticism that’s very intoxicating and intimate as, by the looks of it, this film is here . . . .

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