FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 28, 2010

pieces of Jennifer's Body

Save for remakes and the work of Uwe Boll, few films have been as maligned as Jennifer's Body (2009). From the moment it was announced that Juno scribe Diablo Cody had written a horror film to star babe of three minutes ago Megan Fox, genre fans started frothing at the mouth. Cody was knocked, Fox was bashed, and the premise (a young woman sacrificed by a rock band seeking favor with the devil returns to life all eeeevil and stuff) was pronounced "stupid" from the get go. I'm not going to say I was looking forward to the film- I'm not particularly a fan of Cody's writing style- but the uproar smacked of a bit of elitism on the part of the horror community, as if people like Diablo Cody, Megan Fox, and director Karyn Kusama didn't have the right to play in our playground. Couple that with The Internet's proclivity for naysaying for the sake of it and Jennifer's Body was doomed before it hit screens. When the box office numbers proved to be only wee, horror fans felt validated- not that ticket sales always correlate to quality, of course, but everyone was happy that the movie failed.

Yes, I'm generalizing here, but I'm allowed.

It was released on DVD around the holidays to no fanfare...but does it deserve some? I mean, wouldn't it be kind of nice if the movie was actually worth watching and not the big, steaming pile that genre fans hoped it would be? Well? Wouldn't it? Answer me, dammit! I...

...err, yes. "Needy" (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer (Megan Fox) are total besties, and they have been since early grade school. Now high schoolers, they're navigating life in the town of Devil's Kettle, a cold, rural town in the Midwest. When the band Low Shoulder comes to play at the Kettle's only excuse for a bar, Jennifer drags Needy to the show. The band is just capable and just cute enough to entrance Jennifer, whose eyes are glued to the stage. Needy, however, notices that all of a sudden the bar is on fucking fire- the girls and the band make it out alive, but eight other people don't.

As the tavern burns, the band's singer (Adam Brody) cajoles a shocked Jennifer to get in his van. Despite Needy's insistence that it's a really bad idea, Jennifer climbs in. As she settles in, surrounded by a bunch of skeevy guys, there's a sort of great moment between Jennifer and Needy; the latter looks on helplessly, and there's a hint that Jennifer may have changed her mind, may have realized at the last moment that yeah- this is a really bad idea. Still, she's resigned to her fate; the door of the van closes and it drives away. Sometimes movies have those perfect moments that ring of absolute truth, and this is one. Everyone knows a girl...or maybe is a girl...who would quiet the voice of reason and climb into that van. It's the girl who would sleep with a z-grade rocker for that tiny bit of fame that would...well, rub off on her and give her a moment's escape from her shitty life in her shitty small town. I have no idea if Kusama and Cody meant that moment to be as deep as I'm saying it is- who knows, maybe it's not that deep at all- but with the specter of gang rape hanging over Jennifer's head (and the inability of Needy to prevent it), it's really the most horrifying sequence in the film.



Low Shoulder didn't abscond with Jennifer for sex, however- they're simply looking for a virgin to sacrifice in the hopes that Satan will grant them success. The wrench in the works: Jennifer's not a virgin. Surpisingly, this isn't a detriment to the band's efforts; they get the success they desired and it's Jennifer who still pays the price. She shows up at Needy's house bloodied, muddied, and ravenous. She pukes up some black liquid that seems alive, then splits to leave her best friend to wonder what's going on.

What's going on is that Jennifer now has a demon inside her. She's been transformed into a succubus, and in order to survive she must feast on the blood of men- or, at least, the male population of Devil's Kettle High.


Boys start turning up dead, Jennifer is alternately greasy & sallow and clean & squeaky, while Needy tries to figure what's going on and stop it before her boyfriend becomes a victim. As you may have guessed, this all puts a bit of a strain on the relationship between the girls.

So what's wrong here? Doesn't all the world love a good succubus story?

The downfall of Jennifer's Body is that it's not enough of any one thing; it falls squarely between genres, residing in some cinematic Negative Zone. It's not horror enough for the horror crowd, it's too horror for the comedy crowd; though it's about young people, it's a bit too mature to resonate with that demographic. Jennifer simply doesn't have a proper home.

Karyn Kusama bathes the world in pretty, candilicious color, perhaps in an attempt to give Jennifer's Body a fairy tale feel. While it does make the film enjoyable to watch, again- it's not enough of any one thing. Were the theatricality heightened, the story might come off like a Tim Burton film, a fable true to the folklore of the succubus. Were the horror movie aspects heightened- more gore, more violence- it would have succeeded as a monster movie.

And then, of course, there's Maude Diablo Cody. The dialogue in Jennifer's Body is much like the dialogue in Juno- people don't converse, they quip. They call each other funny names and they drop pop culture references at a lightning-fast pace. It's a conceit that ultimately does a disservice to both Cody's ability and the film itself; when everyone in the movie speaks so cleverly all the time, no real emotion ever peeks through the artifice. There are several instances during the course of the movie that are completely undermined by the jokes- instances that could have packed some sort of wallop, or maybe a scare. It's a testament to the ability of Amanda Seyfried (and yes, Megan Fox- she's actually kind of terrific in this) that we feel anything at all.

Though it's more than a bit futile to spend much time wishing a movie was this or that instead of what it actually is, sometimes you can't help it...or I can't help it, especially when it comes to Jennifer's Body. There are a few baby-sized ideas at work that, had any been developed further, would have made for a much more interesting film. In particular, I'm thinking of the relationship between Needy and Jennifer. Though seemingly a mismatched pair (Needy's a geek! Jennifer's a hottie!), the friendship between the two has survived because they just get each other.

The kiss between the girls, talked about during the film's production to drum up buzz, is a bit of sensationalism, sure...but in the context of their relationship, it makes sense. There are broad hints that Jennifer and Needy are simply in love with one another. They kiss, they hold hands, they gaze at each other from afar...Needy thinks about Jennifer while having sex with her boyfriend- granted, it's not necessarily sexual thoughts, but the point stands. Had this theme been fleshed out rather than hinted at, it would have made a stronger film. Instead, the idea withers on the vine.

Towards the end of the film, Needy lets fly the "truth" about Jennifer: that she's a terrible friend, a has-been at school, a girl "pretty" thanks only to an eating disorder. Mind you, nothing in all the minutes that preceded that scene gave us any notion that their friendship wasn't anything but healthy- Jennifer's lousy behavior didn't start until after she was sacrificed. Again, it's a coulda been plot thread; the once-popular girl driven to great lengths to recapture her glory days would have been interesting (not to mention it would have echoed the succubus lore nicely). But alas, we're left to just take Needy's word for it.

I know all this reads as if I'm not endorsing Jennifer's Body, but I am. I watched it twice before I reviewed it (both the theatrical and extended versions), and it was a much more satisfying film the second go-round. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, certainly; as I said, it's decidedly a "Diablo Cody" film (if a person can be rendered a genre), and in the horror department it's rather lite. Still, I don't think it necessarily deserved the huge ass-whuppin' it got. It looks nice, it's got a bit to chew on, and like I said- who doesn't love a good succubus story?

Most of all, I'm irritated by the song that begins the end credit sequence. If you're going to name your film after a track from Hole's Live Through This and you decide to use a track from Hole's Live Through This in said film, why the fuck would you use "Violet" instead of "Jennifer's Body"? This, it makes no sense. Just had to get that off my chest.

25 comments:

Evil Dead Junkie said...
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Evil Dead Junkie said...

Yay! Glad I'm not the only one who liked Jennifer's Body.

And here's the proof: http://thingthatdontsuck.blogspot.com/2009/10/return-of-31-days-of-horror-5-jennifers.html

I have a feeling in five years horror fans are going to have a hard time believing all the hate that was directed at this movie.

Seriously I'll let other people play in our sandbox if that means they make up their own ideas rather then just ruining 80's films.

soloparolesparse said...

I think the kiss between Amanda and megan is best thing in the film.
Here my considerations about jennifer's body (in Italian):
http://www.soloparolesparse.com/2009/12/jennifers-body-se-questo-e-un-horror/

Marc Edward Heuck said...

Thank you for providing a fair-minded defense of JENNIFER'S BODY. I liked it even more than you, though I will admit to being a mark for Cody's writing, so my opinion is a bit suspect.

I did get more of a vibe than you that their friendship had always been a sort of one-sided affair where Jennifer looked to Needy for "realness" and someone who would always look up to her. To me, the movie is a fun extended metaphor about the pain of having to end a friendship that has turned (literally) poisonous. And to the credit of both the screenplay and the actors, you sense Needy's pain through it all - as fed up as she is with Jennifer's figurative and literal vampiric behavior, she loves her and remembers when she was a better person. SPOILER ALERT: And I especially liked the ending where Needy, even after killing Jennifer, goes in search of Low Shoulder to destroy them - it reminded me, of all things, THE MALTESE FALCON; the notion that no matter what beef you have with your friend or partner, they were your partner, and loyalty dictates that when someone has wronged them, they've wronged you.

Great essay, and great blog in general. I was referred here through AV Maniacs, and I'm adding you to my links.

CRwM said...

Reviews like this should convince horror bloggers that seeing a film is necessary precondition of critiquing it. But then I've always been a foolish optimist . . .

That said, I did not get the sense that Jennifer and Needy's friendship was all that positive. Jen's kind of a bully even prior to her transformation (for example, she sets out fashion rules for Needy that ensure Needy won't upstage her.) Even in the flashback scenes, Jennifer's getting Needy to cover for her nonsense.

It was, for me, one of the more interesting aspects of the flick: that Jennifer wasn't some innocent angel prior to her possession. It helps undermine the tired trope of the monster girl as a symbol of violated or perverted innocence.

My 2 cents anyway.

John said...

I actually liked the premise of this film going into it, although I was a little nervous about the dialogue writing. Really, who cares if a horror movie has a ridiculous supernatural story? How many times did Jason die? No one gives a shit, they're (mostly) good, fun movies.

As much as I hate to say it, when I see Paris Hilton in a horror movie, it usually doesn't hurt the movie, or even adds to it... and I was expecting, or at least willing to hope for, the same sort of thing from Megan Fox. But it was just a big disappointment, for pretty much the reasons you described. It didn't try hard enough to be a great horror film (which it could have been), and didn't even come close to being a good movie in any other genre it flirted with.

Mrs. Holly Hall said...

I really loved this film from the bottom of my heart. But, I went into it not really knowing anything beyond the fact that it was made by Diablo Cody.

And really, it's true, characters quip instead of speaking. But, underneath all the rythmic dialouge is some hard core truth about being a woman, and using one's sexuality for power.

There's this one line, when Needy and Jennifer are in the bar before the band plays, and Jennifer says, "Boobs are like smart bombs, just point them in the right direction."

It's an exploration of the crazy power she has from being so beautiful, so overtly sexual, so flat bellied. It's just crazy really. It's so well examined in this film. The transient, manipulative and sad power of a girl that puts out.

The music angle I believe, with the indy band, is a pet obsession of Ms. Cody's. I wonder if she couldn't get the rights to the
"Jennifer's Body" and had to settle . . hmm..

That being said, if you approach this film with the firm understanding that it is indeed a Diablo Cody film, it is really an awesome film.

;)

Moviezzz said...
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Stacie Ponder said...

Hmm, I see what you guys are saying about the pre-demon relationship between the girls. I guess to me, it wasn't terribly toxic to begin with- yeah, Jennifer was a bit of a bossy jerk, but Needy didn't seem put off by any of it or really effected negatively. Her friendship could be a detriment to her relationship with her boyfriend, but Needy wears the pants there.

I found that interesting, though. In fact, the film would have been a smidge better and would have made a bit more sense had their names been reversed- throughout the movie, it's Jennifer who's "needy". She needs Anita to validate herself, and Needy clearly has the better life: a relationship with her mom, brains, strength, and a boyfriend...nothing Jennifer seems to have. The film should have simply been called Needy, but that doesn't have the caché of a Hole song, I guess.

I wanted the "Jennifer is a has-been" angle to be much more evident, so she'd have to go to such horrible, extreme lengths to recapture her power.

Relationships between girls fascinate me, because they're (we're) always so fucking brutal to each other. Best friends can be mortal enemies, frequently at the same time. I thought that's what Cody was going for here, but...maybe I wanted broader strokes or something. What I really want is an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye- that book is one of the best examples of what I'm talking about.

Jay Clarke said...

How refreshing to see a little love for Jennifer's Body. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I think the dialogue worked better here than in Juno, because in that film you had characters of all ages talking like snarky twenty somethings. At least in JB, they were all teenagers, so it seemed a smidge more plausible.

Oh, and the cinematography and look of the movie was leaps and bounds above what I was expecting.

Corey said...

like you, i went into this film with low-expectations because of the negative reaction from horror fans (anti-buzz?) and not having much respect for megan fox as an actress. like you, i was also quite impressed by fox's performance... cody's writing is not easy to perform, and fox did amazingly well with it. unlike you though... i loved this film from beginning to end. so much so that i named it my favorite horror film of the year in my 'best of' list for 2009.

it's already been said to an extent, but i think it worth saying again that the relationship between needy and jennifer was incredibly unhealthy to begin with and that the entire film is a metaphor for needy coming to this realization. needy was just that... she lived vicariously through jennifer's life of beauty, guys and power. jennifer used needy as an emotional punching bag, putting her down to elevate herself. they had nothing in common (which is stated early on) except for their unhealthy dependence on each other.

however, needy DID have a healthy relationship with her boyfriend. as that relationship grew, she became less dependent on jennifier and began to pull away from her... finally seeing her for what she was. a selfish, controlling, boy-eating vampire (both figuratively and literally).

as for the dialogue... well, much like david mamet and joss whedon before her, it seems you either love or hate dialbo cody's stylized writing. personally i find it hilarious and emotionally engaging... but i could see how it could annoy, since no one on earth actually talks like that.

folkinz said...

I loved this film when I first saw it, perhaps it's that I really like pop culture and horror films, and I like Diablo Cody's style of writing. I think this movie got slammed mostly because of Megan Fox's public personality and lingering Juno backlash.

As for your question at the end with Jennifer's Body by Hole. I asked a friend who works in LA on movie soundtracks and he said that to name a movie and then use the song with the same name would have been outrageously expensive, so they went with Violet.

Nice review.

Emily said...

GREAT review Stacie. I had a lot of problems with this film, but ended up becoming something of a (ironically enough) cheerleader for it because I got tired of so many people bashing it before they saw it. You sum up a lot of my issues with Jennifer's Body: there is a fascinating relationship (and a genuinely well-acted one at that) to be found, but I think the execution and too-light take just leaves you never really knowing what to think of the film. None of the "scary" bits worked in the least for me, and Cody's script was a tad too referential for my taste, but there were some genuinely funny moments (many involving Adrian Brody) and I cared about what was happening.

Also, my friend and I were singing "Through the Trees" for weeks after this movie.

Also also, I've yet to read Cat's Eye but I'm a huge Atwood fan (man I dream of a Cronenberg-directed adaptation of Oryx & Crake) and thought The Robber Bride was an excellent study of female friend/enemyship. Cat's Eye is so getting an eventual read!

Stacie Ponder said...

Emily, if you love The Robber Bride then you'll dig Cat's Eye. It's my favorite book of hers (yes, including Handmaid's Tale). I've yet to read Oryx & Crake, but if you're talking about a Cronenberg-helmed adaptation then I'd better seek it out...

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, and have been internal dialogue-debating my brain as to whether I should netflix it.
But your review, and extrapolatory insights, have convinced me that it's worth a look.

roobecca said...

I agree, I liked it, but I really felt it could have been so much better!! The one thing I really didnt like was how Needy went straight to
"Oh Jennifer is evil, here's a book, oh ok I need to stab her, I'm surprisingly fine with that" I know she killed her boyfriend and stuff, but still, she didn't even try to find an alternative, the girl's her BEST FRIEND, even if my bff turned super evil I actually dont think I'd be able to stab her, it upsets me because Needy and Jennifer really did love each other.

Stacie Ponder said...

Roobecca, I totally agree with you and that was something I wanted to mention...Needy does some research and figures out hey, Jennifer's got a demon inside her. That's great, but she's not going to research into possible ways to save her? Even if that was the only alternative, even if Jennifer was actually already dead, I'd think it would still be off-putting to stab your best friend.

The climax of the film was a moment that was COMPLETELY undermined by a joke, in my opinion.

Emily said...

Stacie, definitely give Oryx & Crake ago. It gets back to her Handmaid's Tale-ish style of an alternate future, but this one is totally post-apocalyptic and wacky in a more genetically engineered way. Her last book (can't remember the title, but it just came out late last year) is actually a sequel to it, although I haven't picked it up yet. And thanks for the urging onto Cat's Eye. I don't read nearly enough now with the joys of podcasts and blogs (plus a short work commute), but every time I pick up an Atwood novel I remember why I love her work.

houseofmirthandmovies said...

Jennifer's Body was actually one of my most anticipated films of the year. I'm no big fan of Cody, but I thought her style of writing and characters could be interesting for the horror genre. I was unfortunately let down by how poorly executed the whole thing was, especially the script. There are hints of greatness, and the foundation is fairly strong (I think at least), but in the end, it feels amateurish in the worst way. I wonder what could have been if the first draft of that script was script-doctored by someone with some skills. It was salvageable, it just needed a lot of work.

I will say though, that the performances were pretty spot on. The film actually sold me on Megan Fox, which I thought would never happen.

rikp said...

I wonder why they didn't just use a cover of the song, like in "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" (and, more recently, all the guitar/rock games which sound authentic but aren't), since the expense is using the actual "recording" not the song itself.

Queen Anthai said...

That said, I'm still irritated by the song that begins the end credit sequence. If you're going to name your film after a track from Hole's Live Through This and you decide to use a track from Hole's Live Through This in said film, why the fuck would you use "Violet" instead of "Jennifer's Body"? This, it makes no sense. Just had to get that off my chest.


THANK. YOU. SO. MUCH.

Stacie Ponder said...

"Jennifer's Body was actually one of my most anticipated films of the year."

We must have been reading different websites. :D There was a lot of buzz and many set visits, reports, and pictures posted, but it never seemed that anyone was actually looking forward to it. Comments were just about always negative (aside from "Megan Fox is hot" or some such), and I came across several sites that wrote diatribes against it while it was still in production.

I agree with you, however, about the need for script-doctoring here. It's exactly how I feel about ROb Zombie's films as well.

Evil Dead Junkie said...

Emily your idea of a Cronenberg directed Oryx and Crake just made me splooge a little.


Christ can you imagine what he'd do with the goddamn Piggoons?

The thing I find so funny about Atwood is she's one of those writers I love apart from their most famous work.

J.D. Alexander said...

Here's my opinon on Jennifer's body on my blog:
http://thestoriesofjdandivy.blogspot.com

Toby Venable said...

Speaking of Oryx & Crake, looks like Arronofsky has beat Cronenberg to the punch as he is adapting the trilogy for HBO
http://shortlist.com/entertainment/tv/darren-aronofsky-to-helm-margaret-atwoods-maddaddam-trilogy-for-hbo