Jennifer’s Body

jennifersbody

Movie review by Greg Carlson

Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody will assuredly not be making a second trip to the stage of the Kodak Theatre for “Jennifer’s Body,” a phony rehash of too many better movies to count (“Carrie,” “The Exorcist,” and “Heathers” are among the obvious influences). Snotty, snide, and contemptuous of both its characters and the audience likely to see it, “Jennifer’s Body” isn’t funny enough to be a comedy and certainly isn’t scary enough to be a horror film. The movie relentlessly emphasizes starlet-of-the-moment Megan Fox’s good looks, but the comely performer – whose acting chops remain in serious question – plays an insatiable succubus with little heart and not a trace of soul.

Some defenders have raised the possibility that Fox was cast precisely because Jennifer needs to be gorgeous on the outside and hollow on the inside, but Cody refuses to make any distinction between the pre-demonic Jennifer and the cruel monster she becomes. The story’s point of view belongs to Jennifer’s doormat of a best pal, the transparently monikered Needy (Amanda Seyfried). Despite the claim that “sandbox love never dies,” Needy seems too earnest and genuine to accept the torrent of callous, pitiless sadism that Jennifer dishes out to everyone in her path. The suggestion that Needy harbors a serious crush on Jennifer is underdeveloped, turning a late stage make-out session between the girls into little more than tease and titillation.

While it is easy to share Cody’s disdain for rock poseurs who prey on female fans, “Jennifer’s Body” adds little to the discussion of women in the horror genre, especially where revenge fantasies intersect with cultural anxieties over sexuality. To the filmmakers’ credit, “Jennifer’s Body” channels its point of view through a female protagonist, but Needy’s own erotic curiosity about her BFF fixes Fox’s Jennifer as the object of our gaze as well. The movie never gets tired of revealing Fox in various states of undress (it does, however, eschew nudity), and Jennifer narcissistically admires herself in a mirror’s reflection in more than one scene.

Cody’s stylized teen-speak elevated several idiotic lines from “Juno” to catchphrase status (the use of “homeskillet” should be banned from all future conversation), but at least in that movie the impossible cleverness was placed in the service of understanding a central character who used her intelligence as a shield against fear and uncertainty. In “Jennifer’s Body,” the arch one-liners are poisonous: Needy and Jennifer mock-affectionately call each other nicknames like Vagisil and Monistat, mash-up terms like “freaktarded” are liberally applied, and groaners like “Move on, dot org” instantly date the film.

Cody’s dialogue is not afforded much help from Karyn Kusama’s direction, which emphasizes cheap shocks and a reliance on unconvincing CGI whenever Jennifer’s fanged maw opens to feed on her luckless victims. Only one scene, an atmospheric showdown in a neglected swimming pool, conjures some magic that transcends the drab locations meant to suggest the provincial Minnesota hamlet Devil’s Kettle, but by the time the movie gets to it, patience and interest have been sorely strained.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 9/28/09.

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