Blame it on the bloody menarche. The combination of schoolgirls and horror is so intoxicating it’s a wonder there haven’t been more films like Carrie, Suspiria or Ginger Snaps to exploit that tricky adolescent surge of oestrogen. So I’m sorry to disappoint you, but Jennifer’s Body isn’t worthy to be set alongside The Craft, let alone any of the aforementioned titles.
It has all the ingredients for a trash classic – cheerleader transformed into man-eating succubus, high-school students played by actresses in their mid-twenties, girl-on-girl snogging, indie rock musicians who have sold their souls to the Devil, black goo vomiting and so on. And it fudges them, one by one.
The film’s big selling point is, of course, Megan Fox. She comes across in interviews as feistier than your average Hollywood starlet, but you’d never guess it to see her in the Transformers movies or this; she acts like Monica Bellucci with all the oomph Tipp-Exed out. The camerawork contrives to salivate over Jennifer’s body without actually revealing so much as a nipple. Dammit, we don’t even see her bottom, not even in a nude swimming scene. It’s as though the target audience was 12-year-old Mormon boys.
But Fox’s mandate is to be hot, and she duly projects hotness to the best of her ability, though screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama do her few favours. Her character veers from stupid to cunning, from scared to confident, depending on plot requirement, but shows consistency in the one place it shouldn’t. In Ginger Snaps, becoming a werewolf turns Ginger from geek into hottie, but turning into a demon doesn’t change Jennifer’s personality one jot; she’s hot and bitchy before those demonic musicians do horrid things to her… and hey, she’s hot and bitchy afterwards as well.
Cody won an Academy Award for her Juno screenplay, which suggests Academy voters can’t tell the difference between a properly structured script and a slung-together collection of pithy one-liners. Palpably struggling to maintain a reputation for outré wit, she slaps together another set of would-be zingers for Jennifer’s Body, but without Ellen Page to make them sound like the last word in Wildean wit, they fall flat.
A pity she wasted that energy on gravy when she ought to have been applying it to the meat and potatoes. The film’s biggest failing is that Jennifer’s central friendship with Needy (Mamma Mia!‘s Amanda Seyfried) doesn’t convince for a second (and don’t get me started on the character’s cringe-makingly on-the-nail name). Why would a hot cheerleader be best friends with a nerdy girl? We need more than a couple of flashbacks of them growing up together to explain this head-scratcher.
Seyfried, though, is one of the film’s bright spots; the film might have worked better if her character had been the one to get possessed. Saddled with a redundant voice-over narration and specs (to signify that she’s a geek, natch) she nevertheless manages to convey a certain gawky poignancy, especially in interchanges with her equally geeky boyfriend.
Their endearingly adolescent lovemaking is the only scene where Kusama, who made a promising directing debut with Girlfight but struck out with Aeon Flux, seems to know her way around a film set, though she almost ruins it with pointless cross-cutting. Jennifer’s Body is like a masterclass in how not to direct a horror movie; you wonder whether Kusama has even seen a scary film before trying to direct one. I kept thinking, “No, no! Don’t put your camera here! Put it there! That would really terrify me!”
It’s not as though the story doesn’t throw up opportunities for a director to show off. A demonic rock band whose music makes a rural nightclub spontaneously combust! Woodland creatures looking on, Night of the Hunter-style, as a lovers’ tryst turns to carnage! A catfight between chicks in prom dresses in a swimming-pool! Set-pieces like these should be a slam-dunk, even shot in Vancouver on a low budget, but Kusama fumbles them all. One can only dream of what a mid-period Argento or De Palma might have done in her place.
Ironically, the only time the film really gripped me was in the last few minutes, and only then through the closing credits, when – even though the treatment is botched – the story takes a last-minute twist into left field and I started thinking, “Now this is the movie I wish I were watching!”
This review was first posted on theartsdesk.com in 2009.
If you’re interested in what does or doesn’t make a film scary, you might like:
SOME REASONS WHY THE WOMAN IN BLACK WASN’T SCARY
SCARY BITS: PART ONE