Friday, February 25, 2011

Jennifer's Body (USA, 2009)

OK, let me start by saying I really don't have anything against Diablo Cody – in fact, I'd say that all the negative press and unadulterated hate she is and has been subject to is, more than anything, based on mass envy and subliminal sexism. She made it, and you didn't – and worse, she's a fucking woman. People, get over it. (I say "people" here and not "dude" because sexism against women, especially within the context of success-envy, is not an attitude held by men alone.)
That said, I do hate Juno (2007). It may have some mildly scintillating dialogue, but it is also a manipulative and irresponsible piece of pre-Tea-Party idiocy disguised as an empowerment tract for female teenagers. (Give me Waitress [2007 / trailer] anytime – it, too, may have been pure fantasy, but at least it wasn't so subversively right wing.) But much like one badly written sleaze novel never stops me from buying and reading the next one, or one disappointing episode of The Next Generation never stopped me from watching the next, one crappy film seldom stops me from going to see the relative person's next project, providing it sounds interesting – and damn, if nothing else, Jennifer's Body sure sounded interesting, and not just because it starred Megan Fox, a starlet who seems to have once had the world's best publicist but whom I had never before seen in a film. (There are indeed some advantages to living in Europe.)
True, Aeon Flux (2005 / trailer), the previous film of director Karyn Kusama, was pretty crappy, but it also featured enough stylistic verve to make one think that maybe her next film would be better; and that, at least, Jennifer's Body is. And indeed, as is obvious at the latest during the slow pan up to and across Jennifer's body during the opening credits (a scene used twice), Kusama is capable of some interesting visual and symbolic touches. Her eye for composition is noticeable, and the occasional visual flourish indicates that were she but a bit more experimental she could be a director of future interest – if she ever gets some decent material and a budget.
In any event, when an English buddy of mine I was visiting down in Naples, Italy, last October told me he had the extended version, I was more than happy to kick up my feet, share his Scotch, and finally take a gander at Jennifer's body – not that we ever really got to see that, for like most mainstream horror films of today, full close-up nudity never comes into the picture, not even with a body double. (Ah, for the days of yesteryear when, in films as mainstream as Dressed to Kill [1980 / trailer], they'd body-double a 49-year-old star like Angie Dickinson with a Penthouse Pet of the Month and open the film with a prolonged soapy shower scene. Those were the days!)
Some 107 minutes later, as the credits rolled, we both had to agree: the Scotch was good. And Jennifer's Body? Well, at least it wasn't a manipulative and irresponsible piece of pre-Tea-Party idiocy disguised as an empowerment tract for female teenagers.
The horror slant of Jennifer's Body is a rarity within the horror genre: the man-killing succubus. (How many succubus films have you ever heard of? Only two come to my mind straight off the bat, Jess Franco's surrealist Succubus [1968 / trailer] and The Devil's Nightmare [1971 / trailer], and they're both vintage eurotrash.) In the two-bit town of Devils Kettle, Nowhere, USA, the nerdy Needy (Amanda Seyfried) has been the best friend of the high school bimbo cheerleader Jennifer (Megan Fox) since way back before they even knew what pubic hair was, let alone had any.
One night the two best buds (best babes?) go to the local hillbilly watering hole to catch the concert of an indie band on tour called Low Shoulder and barely manage to escape and survive when the place burns down. Low Shoulder, in need of a virgin for a sacrifice for a demonic spell meant to propel them to stardom, whisk away with Jennifer. Little do they know, she is anything but a virgin. Later that night, she shows up at Needy's home covered in blood and puking black guck. A jock dies, the local goth emo dies, and then Needy clicks to the fact that Jennifer is killing them: she has become a meat-eating demon who needs human flesh to stay young, fresh, purty and alive. This puts a bit of a strain on their subliminally lesbian relationship, a strain that gets worse when Jennifer goes after Needy's twink-like-squeeze Chip (Johnny Simmons)...
Needless to say, the acting in Jennifer's Body is rather bad, but that can hardly be held against the film because the acting in films like this is never all that good – nor is it ever really expected to be. But for a horror comedy, not only is Jennifer's Body relatively light on the laughs but it isn't very horrific – with the possible exception of all the scenes pertaining to Jennifer's fate in the hands of Low Shoulder, an unnerving and uncomfortable reflection of a doomed woman facing death in the hands of a group of men that basically see her as a resource, as a form of bartering good, as an object, and not as a human life of value. (To show just how uneven the film is, the next scariest thing is the whole film is the texture of Megan Fox's complexion, and not just when she's weak and pale and hungry for non-external organs. The short, early close-ups of her face in her pre-possessed form – wow. Those pores look huge, that skin be all bumpy – she ain't gonna age well, that's for sure.)
Megan Fox is actually well cast as the titular and dislikable Jennifer (when not shown in close-up), despite being the weakest actor, but Amanda Seyfried, much too attractive to convey nerdom effectively, is terribly miscast as the ugly duckling best friend who realizes Jennifer's secret. The rest of the cast handle their parts rather well, if only because they have such little screen time that their clothes and "type" do their acting for them. (But what was the point of a metal-claw-handed teacher? Was his "deformity," for a lack of a better word, supposed to be funny? If that's OK, why no queer jokes? Why no Negro jokes? Why no "I spik Eengleesh" jokes? Hell, why no retard jokes?)
The script is a mess. Cody is not very good at situation comedy and only mildly good at black comedy, and in most scenes she was obviously way too busy thinking up pithy dialogue to concentrate on structure or plotting.
(The film, which easily could have been told sequentially, is told 90% in flashback – and even has a flashback within the main flashback.) A balance between the comedy and the horror is never effectively attained, which weakens both (a very bad thing, since both were already weak anyways), and some plot elements – especially the sudden superhero turn at the end – are so out of the blue that they only get derisive laughter. Likewise, during one showdown, Needy's sudden eruption of what a lousy person Jennifer has always been not only runs contrary to the friendship as reflected throughout the movie and the hidden motivations behind the overly discussed girl's kissing scene that her verbal explosion leaves the viewer scratching their head with a "Huh?"
As bad as Jennifer's Body is, what hurts the most about the film is that it truly conveys the sense that it could have been so much more, so much better. A rewrite or two would probably have helped a lot.
But then, who knows, perhaps it is simply one of those films – like The Army of Darkness (1992 / trailer) or The Thing (1982 / trailer) or Peeping Tom (1960 / trailer) – that needs ten years of peculating before it finally begins to work, before the good aspects of it can finally outshine its flaws. In that sense, however, I would guess Jennifer's Body to be more like Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958 / trailer), in that it is a film that needs a lot longer period of time before its virtues become apparent. Right now, however, it just really ain't all that good...

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