Arriving in theaters seven years after its Toronto International Film Festival premiere—its director, Jonathan Levine, has already made three additional movies (The Wackness, 50/50,and Warm Bodies)—All The Boys Love Mandy Lane has the misfortune of inhabiting a specific horror subgenre that now seems at least temporarily defunct. The Cabin In The Woods was delayed, too, as it happens, but not for nearly as long, and it so thoroughly deconstructed the “group of randy, hot kids stalked by killer in isolated setting” premise that a comparatively modest subversion like this one feels like an afterthought. Even if Mandy Lane had been released in a timely fashion, it’s unlikely that it would have found much of an audience. For all its good intentions, it’s ultimately too half-assed and lethargic to work as a conventional horror film, and not nearly thoughtful or incisive enough to subsist on thwarted expectations alone.
It starts out promising, with a prologue in which an obnoxious high-school student accidentally kills himself trying to impress the beautiful, virginal Mandy Lane (Amber Heard), having been goaded into a foolish stunt by her platonic best friend (Michael Welch). Nine months later—note symbolically significant amount of elapsed time—Mandy accompanies five friends (Whitney Able, Edwin Hodge, Aaron Himelstein, Luke Grimes, and Melissa Price) to a secluded ranch, whose seclusion has been established thanks to the now-obligatory scene in which someone complains about having no cell-phone reception. Whether all the boys there love Mandy Lane is questionable, but they certainly all want to get with her, while the two other girls have romantic designs of their own—soon to include the hunky ranchhand (Anson Mount). Alas, as is so often the case, the festivities are repeatedly interrupted by some homicidal lunatic, who proceeds to dispatch these horndogs one-by-one via shotgun, knife, shotgun-employed-as-knife, etc.
Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that the above synopsis violates what Roger Ebert called the Law Of Economy Of Characters, and it’s so obvious who the killer has to be that Mandy Lane doesn’t even bother trying to keep it a secret for very long. Unfortunately, this individual makes a very bland bogeyman, and while Mandy Lane has a long-term plan in mind, with a reasonably provocative twist, the endgame doesn’t retroactively make up for the tedious petty bickering and nonexistent scares. In particular, Levine and screenwriter Jacob Forman don’t seem to know quite what to do with their title character, who’s neither a fleshed-out human being nor an unattainable fantasy; Heard gives a canny performance that’s clearly meant to straddle the line, but given where the story ends up, all the waffling feels like a cheat. Mandy Lane wants to say something cogent about how women are depicted in this sort of horror movie, but it’s 90 percent mundane setup, 10 percent gotcha. And the folks it’s gently lecturing have already moved on.