Director: Karyn Kusama
When critics were given the chance to sink their teeth into Jennifer's Body, directed by Karyn Kusama from a script by Diablo Cody, they didn't like how it tasted. While the film is profoundly flawed, its humourous edge and vaguely 1980's vibe is enough to push it ahead of a lot of failed horror films. Unfortunately, not enough to push it into the winner's circle.
Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is best friends with sexy cheerleader Jennifer (Megan Fox) despite the fact they occupy polar opposite ends of the high school social system. Although we get a sense very early on that it has always been Jennifer's needs and wants that dominated the relationship, Needy and Jennifer are nevertheless BFF (they even have necklaces to prove it). One night, Jennifer drags Needy to a local dive to see an indie band called Low Shoulder. During Low Shoulder's set, an inexplicably devastating fire engulfs the bar. Jennifer and Needy escape. Outside and suffering from shock, Jennifer gets into the van with Low Shoulder frontman Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody) and disappears with the band. When she returns hours later, bloody and abused, she is not the same. Possessed by an evil spirit, Jennifer becomes the most literal embodiment of a man-eater. And she eventually sets her sights on Needy's boyfriend.
IS IT SHOCKING?
The real flaw of Jennifer's Body is that it's not a very scary film. It tires to ride the line between horror and comedy but never fully commits to either. The film is profoundly and completely without atmosphere. There is gore, however. Jennifer is compelled to seduce and eat the boys at her school, and we get to see some grotesque, mutilated corpses as a result. My favorite scene comes early on when she's about to tear a guy apart in the woods. A group of animals gather to watch the kill. When his body is found, a stray deer is nibbling at the leftovers of his corpse. For the most part, however, the real violence occurs off screen or behind curtains (literally). The film is more about using horror conventions to dramatize the inner conflicts, interpersonal conflicts, and sexual conflicts between these two young women. There's an interesting dynamic to be explored here, but the film sometimes feels hindered by its need to try and be scary. It just never fully commits to the horror (more on this later)
You've got red on you.
Obviously, this film was marketed around Megan Fox's body. Although the film has no explicit nudity, she wears a lot of tight, revealing clothes and completely vamps the hell out of her character. In fact, by refusing to show full-frontal nudity or overt sex, Jennifer's Body heightens its sexual tones by appealing to the imagination.
Although this film should be noted because Megan Fox proves that she can indeed act and convey emotion as well as be sexy, it's hard to escape the fact that her body is the real focus. The camera just makes love to her whenever she's on screen. The film also introduces a lesbian sexual tension between Jennifer and Needy. At the height of their inter-personal conflict, Needy's complicated sexual feelings for Jennifer come to the fore in an incredibly hot lesbian kissing scene. Handled by other directors, this scene would have been very exploitative, but Karyn Kusama's direction delivers a scene that is both erotic and fitting. The film is sure to titillate young boys and men, but keep in mind we're not dealing with a heavily erotic thriller by any means.
For one glorious moment, every prepubescent teen boy
(and some of girls) stopped talking in the theatre.
In terms of visuals, Jennifer's Body is pretty standard stuff. There are moments intended to reference the ludicrously gross-out effects from the Evil Dead franchise (clearly an inspiration for the film as we see Needy has both an Evil Dead shirt and poster). In the end, however, nothing surreal occurs to torture the audience's perceptions.
IS IT SILLY?
The saving grace of Jennifer's Body is its comedic tone. The script by Diablo Cody is full of her now trademark "hipster" twists of phrase that we heard in Juno. Many people hate her writing style (in the same way people hate Joss Whedon's dialogue), but I appreciate that she's trying to do something new with language. I'm always open to people exploring the English language, even if it doesn't always succeed. In this film, Cody's script provides a number of laughs. Sometimes they come in form of outright quips ("They're showing Rocky Horror at the Bijou next Friday night" / "I don't like boxing movies") and other times in reinventions of common phrases ("You give me such a wetty" [instead of 'woody']). Not every line hits home, but enough do to keep the dialogue energetic (can any Final Destination film say the same?). The film's approach to its horror elements is also quite tongue-in-cheek. I don't think we're supposed to take it seriously when an emo indie band from the city turns out to be Satan worshipers, but it adds an element of fun and satire to the plot. Unfortunately, the sillier aspects of the film come at the expense of the film's horrific and sexy elements. Jennifer's Body simply tries to go in too many directions at once and therefore really goes nowhere. By the end of the film, the story feels like an entirely new movie (one I'd pay to see, mind you, and probably like better than Jennifer's Body itself). Jennifer's Body is neither a terrible movie nor a great movie. It occupies that shady gray area in between, which means it will probably fade away in the minds of horror fans.