I know I said you wouldn’t read about most mainstream horror releases here, but Jennifer’s Body isn’t most mainstream horror releases. I was curious to see how a teen horror movie directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) and written by Diablo Cody (Juno) would turn out.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Kusama’s Girlfight but let’s face it, Aeon Flux, her last film (2005), was a total mess. She’s been in movie jail ever since. And while I’m a huge fan of Cody’s work, I wasn’t sure how her distinctive voice would translate to horror. Also, I’d read all the press on how the filmmakers had resisted studio pressure to dumb down the film to appeal to a broader audience. Although Cody has said she’s happy that the powers that be had trusted her vision, left it largely untouched and allowed an R rating, I had my doubts. Color me surprised—Jennifer’s Body turned out far better than I expected.
Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is the girl every guy wants and every girl wants to be. You know the one: strikingly beautiful; a little mean, but not too mean; extremely sexual, with anyone she chooses. Conversely, her best friend, Anita “Needy” Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried), is pretty, but subtly so; smart, but not nerdy; sexual, but has a steady guy. Needy is forever in Jennifer’s shadow, but they’ve been BFFs since the sandbox and balance each other. One night, Jennifer bullies Needy into going to a bar to see a band. One thing leads to another, and Jennifer becomes possessed by a demon and starts eating teenage boys to keep her looks. You know, standard high school stuff.
All Kusama and Cody had to do was give us the standard formula, but they’ve taken that formula and added a few new ingredients. Jennifer’s Body is, at turns, a “woman’s drama,” a paean to ‘70s and ‘80s horror flicks, a meditation on female sexuality, a feminist screed and a black comedy. Kusama’s camera moves as restlessly as a cobra and she takes advantage of most every trick in the book to good effect, ratcheting up the tension and then releasing it like a horror veteran. Cody’s dialogue has all the requisite pop culture references and stylized slang, but it’s never overly precious as it has been in the past. Her story follows the usual route, but takes enough clever detours to keep the trip from being boring.
Without effort, I know much too much about Fox’s personal life, but I’ve only seen her in one movie. I believe this is her first leading role, and she plays Jennifer just right—snarky, sexy, scary and insecure. But even though the film is named Jennifer’s Body, it’s Amanda Seyfried that runs away with the flick. She’s been doing good work for a while now, and her Needy is the center of the film. There’s also fine supporting work from Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris and Johnny Simmons.
Perhaps Kusama and Cody should team up and take on some other film styles. How about a prison flick or a war movie, ladies? Whatever these two do next, we should be happy they managed to give us Jennifer’s Body. It might not be exactly what the studio wanted, but it’s what we needed: an intelligent, well-made horror film that cunningly upends the usual genre tropes at every turn. Maybe it’ll start a trend—smart movies by smart people for smart people. Stranger things have happened.