[18 September 2009]
Emo is literally evil in Jennifer’s Body. Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s follow-up to her Oscar-winning Juno features a teenage groupie impregnated by demons. Its dorks aren’t virginal. Its slut doesn’t die (well, maybe technically.) And Megan Fox proves capable of carrying a movie on her supernaturally good-looking shoulders.
In fact, if an actress other than Fox had been cast as the titular succubus, Jennifer’s Body might be a bit less compelling. Her much-ballyhooed beauty makes it seem entirely plausible that animalistic man-eating makes her “really pretty and glowy,” according to her best nerdly friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried). When Fox is on screen, you can’t take your eyes off her. Even when the beast within Jennifer is hungry and she turns “ugly… well, ugly for her,” Fox has got the stunning face and teeny waist that keep on giving.
At the beginning of the film, Jennifer is just another eye-rolling cool girl at a high school in backwoods Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota. Though she’s a cheerleader at the top of the student pecking order, she hangs out with Needy (BFFs since they were little kids, they wear matching lockets). While Needy has a steady beau, Chip (Johnny Simmons), Jennifer’s on the prowl, cajoling Needy to go along to see a crappy indie band named Low Shoulder because singer Nikolai (Adam Brody) is “extra salty.” (Remember, this is Cody’s acrobatically slanged universe.)
The group doesn’t even make it through the first song when a curtain catches fire and the place burns down—a not-too-subtle and somewhat distasteful reference to the deadly 2003 fire at a Rhode Island club. The girls escape, and Jennifer isn’t too rattled to hop in the band’s tinted-window van. The next time Needy sees her, Jennifer is bloodied and strangely vacant-looking. After tearing into a chicken she finds in the fridge, she lets out an inhuman roar and a spew of inky vomit.
The next day in school, Jennifer’s fine. “You have a tendency to overreact,” she tells her freaked-out friend. When Needy shows her blackened fingernails as proof that the projectile puking actually happened, Jennifer suggests a manicure: “You should find a Chinese chick to buff your situation.”
Jennifer’s Body may tamp the anti-Cody movement’s vitriol. Its invented hipsterisms are significantly toned down compared to Juno (though as in that film, many of the characters sound the same). More important, though, horror fans will likely be bored. There’s gore, but not a high body count, and cheap scares are rare. Though director Karyn Kusama’s stylistic flair complements the lower-key frights, such that the film is interesting to look at even when it dips into predictable OMG! plotting. Jennifer’s heightened senses, for example, are demonstrated by the camera zooming in a beeline from a distance to right up close to her first victim, and a gut-tearing murder is shown in silhouette. Plus, it’s cool when Jennifer, Prom Queen gives way to flashes of Jennifer, Satan’s Pawn, her eyes turning catlike or her body suddenly levitating or wracked by those ungodly roars.
Cody’s comedy may not match Scream‘s deftness, but the tonal shifts rarely seem out of place. (When Chip asks if Needy noticed the make and model of the band’s van, she answers, “I don’t know, an ‘89 Rapist?”) The state of “indie” rock gets its deserved share of kicks—Low Shoulder’s reasoning for dabbling in the Satanic is hilarious. But then, the film’s resolution is too ridiculous and too easy. Even diehard Cody fans will have to admit that it finale jumps the corpse.