Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jennifer's Body (2009) Review

Jennifer’s Body
A tempting, yet unfulfilling offer
I came across an interesting article recently on one of my trusted movie review sites (Screenrant in case you were wondering) regarding the appeal of Jennifer’s Body. They culled together information that showed that while male viewers seemed to be more on the negative side of things, the female audience was much more welcoming to the movie’s premise. To me, this isn’t much of a surprise, given how the heroine is female, the killer is female, the writer is female, and the director also happens to be female. This is a horror-comedy made by females, and is presumably aimed at a more feminine audience. Given how I’m on the male spectrum though, how was my take on the movie? Did I agree with my cohorts, or did I find myself siding more with the opposite sex?

Plot Synopsis: The nerdy Anita “Needy” Lesnicky has been friends with the infinitely more popular Jennifer Check ever since their early childhood, despite the skepticism of everyone else who feels their relationship to be implausible. One night, their unexceptional hometown of Devils Kettle gets an appearance at the local bar from the cult rock band Low Shoulder, which wants to try reaching out to the more rural areas as opposed to their usual city life. Despite Needy’s initial reluctance, Jennifer eventually convinces her to come along with her to the place. During the band’s performance, the bar soon catches on fire and collapses, but not before Needy, Jennifer, and Low Shoulder make it out alive. Jennifer accepts the band's offer of a ride home, to which Needy declines because she feels they are a sketchy bunch. That night, Needy encounters a bloody and bruised Jennifer rummaging through her house for food but can’t get an explanation as to what happened to her. Over the next few months, multiple bodies start turning up dead and eaten up, and Needy suspects that Jennifer may be something more than human. 


After my viewing, it wasn’t hard to understand why the guy crowd won’t connect to Jennifer’s Body the same way girls will. In a rather nice twist on horror conventions, the victims in the movie are primarily all male while the killer is a flesh-eating woman. And aside from those victims and Chip, there really aren’t any central male characters. Instead, the movies primary focus is on the deteriorating relationship between Needy and Jennifer. Despite what you may think, Needy is actually the main protagonist of the story rather than Jennifer, which is fine by me since Amanda Seyfried is the better and more experienced actress between the two. Her character goes through a lot of crazy shit during the course of the story, and Seyfried believably portrays Needy’s gradual descent into madness. Johnny Simmons does the best he can, but Chip’s somewhat diminished role in the plot tends to keep him mostly on the sidelines. And although many slam Megan Fox for her limited acting, I thought she did damn fine in the role of Jennifer. The script mainly called for her to be seductive, sexy, and bitchy, and she nailed all three of those aspects. You can practically feel the evil inside her as she snarls and wiggles her way around Diablo Cody’s trademark snappy dialogue. 

Actually I found the Cody-speak more enjoyable when it simply tried to sound cool and snappy, rather than cool and funny. I’m not sure why exactly, but it could be because the moments that I found to be funny were too few and far between and therefore felt forced. Just to put this out there, I learned that Cody wrote the screenplay a little while before Juno and then let it sit on the shelf, so the uneven writing is more understandable. But while her dialogue isn’t quite as smoothly integrated as it could have been, the woman must be commended for at least trying to write a horror movie that isn’t simply another cookie-cutter kill fest. As I mentioned before, the plot tends to flip the usual horror gender conventions around in some nifty ways. Another convention that is played on nicely is the virginity (or lack thereof) of the girls, which figures into Jennifer’s demonic transformation. There are a couple of plot holes that go unexplained, such as the odd psychic connection between Jennifer and Needy, but its fun to see a horror movie that is at least trying to play by its own rules. 


The flip-side to the uneven comedy is that Jennifer’s Body turns out to be pretty decent when it dips its hands in the horror realm. The sight of a bloody Jennifer spewing out black goo ala Regan from The Exorcist sent some chills through me, as was the exploitation of the fear that the hottest girl in your school could literally be a smutty man-eater. And despite the lack of gore, which I’m sure many hardcore horror fans will be disappointed by, the kill scenes had a reasonable amount of suspense to keep them enjoyable, like the one where we only see the silhouette of Jennifer munching on a poor sap as the blood spews on the wall. Director Karyn Kusama had a lot to make up for after the disastrous Aeon Flux, but she seems to have redeemed herself by proving to be a decent director of horror. That doesn’t mean that Kusama can craft an entirely smooth experience throughout however. Many of the music choices for a few scenes come off as obnoxious and annoying, while some scenes also seem heavy-handed. Also, the much talked about make-out scene between Seyfried and Fox pretty much comes out of nowhere other than to generate a little titillation.

Of course, I’m sure that most of the male demographic is really just going to see Jennifer’s Body expecting to catch a little Megan Fox nudity. Well to save those simpletons their free time…we are not shown any nudity on Fox’s part except for some concealed skinny-dipping and tease moments. But they are missing the point, since Kusama and Cody didn’t set out to cater to the male instincts. They wanted to create a horror movie specifically for women, and Jennifer’s Body proves to be a mild success on that front. It may not be all it tries to be, but there is enough here to warrant at least one view.


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