The critical drubbing that horror film/High School satire "Jennifer's Body" has endured belies its talent behind the camera. After all, it was critics who first pointed out the particular tenor of Diablo Cody's writing in "Juno" and championed it through its short Film Festival run into theaters (Jason Reitman's previous film "Thank You for Smoking," although a nice piece of film-making with a brain in its head, didn't do well at the box office.) Director Karyn Kusama isn't too shabby a director, although "Æon Flux" was an MTV-ginzu'd nightmare. I was surprised that 2oth Century Fox advertised it as a straight horror movie starring Megan Fox (aiming at—and only at—teenage boys), rather than including girls in the mix. As a result the film "opened soft" (as they say), and the film received decidedly mixed reviews depending on how serious they took it....even serial contrarian Armond White sided with the majority.
But horror films aren't just horror films—they say something about our fears, and more broadly, the "Holy Shite"-geist of society. The proverbially "good" horror movie touches our souls with a chilly finger and reminds us we're all mortal, but whether it's our relationship with God (in "Frankenstein") or our relationship with sex and guilt ("Halloween"), horror films find our soft underbellies and either tickle us or stab up to the third knuckle.
"Jennifer's Body" tells the story of Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried), girl-hood friends in the small town of Devil's Kettle who've stayed close depite a Mutt and Jeff relationship in high school. Jennifer is a cheerleader, drop-dead gorgeous and just as likely to tell you...to drop-dead, that is. Needy, by contrast is blond, bespectacled, and Jennifer's beard, of sorts, her "Biff" in "Diablo-Code," able to rein her in if she gets too out of control in their adventures. Unfortunately, one night when the pair go off to a local dive to see an up-and-coming indie band, the place goes up in flames and Jennifer's entranced enough with the lead singer (Adam Brody) to go off in the band's van, leaving Needy behind, in a state of shock.
When Needy gets home, she finds Jennifer waiting for her, pale, crazy-eyed, smiling through bleeding gums, and vomiting a noxious black bile: she's turned into a succubus from Hell, and where in the past she used to merely chew out aggressive boys, now she chews them out and consumes them, leaving behind what one schoolmate describes as "lasagna with teeth." It's up to Needy to keep her Best Friend Forever from being discovered for the fiend she is, while simultaneously protecting her class-mates—a task if she was any good at would effectively kill the movie.
It sounds like very rich material to go over the societal strata of High School with, if the territory didn't have so many skid-marks running through it already.* One could see it as a revenge flick for all those sosh's who've terrorized the commoners, but Jennifer is as much a victim as anyone, and is an equal opportunity disembowler. And Needy's loyalties are so divided that you begin to wonder just whose side she's on. And the "males as victims of the woman" angle would seem fresh...if it was done 20 years ago.** Ultimately, the message aspect to it is weak and anemic, so ham-strung is the script by its own cross-messages. Good direction would divert your attention from them, but even there, everything comes up short. However cob-webbed the old cliche's, Kusama's rhythm for them is off, with loud bumps in the night that land with a dull thud. Opportunities lurk around every steadi-cammed corner and go unsprung. Then when something happens, Kusama won't cut away until the carnage becomes so much spewing corn-syrup. In trying to do something different and avoid the standard horror tropes, Kusama can't even deliver any chills.
And, despite what you've heard, Megan Fox isn't half-bad, showing far more depth and humor than, say, other sex-bomb's like Raquel Welch, have in the past. Fox isn't afraid to not look beautiful, and does so frequently, even if it's just with an "I'm Sooo-C'ra-zy" glint in her eyes, but she has the easier part. Seyfried has to play the "normal" girl, who can be both the ugly duckling and beautiful swan when the circumstances call for it. It shows how weak the material is when J.K. Simmons and Amy Sedaris can't find much inspiration in their parts. There was potential here, but it isn't satirical enough, funny enough, or scary enough to provoke any reaction other indifference. And that's the worst death in a horror film.
"Jennifer's Body" is a Cable-Watcher.
* "Carrie," "Scream," "Species," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" have all staked out the same territory and potential that "Jennifer's Body" squanders, usually more pointedly and more entertainingly.
** 50 years if you want to cross-categorize with "film noir."
Saturday, September 26, 2009