Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sexuality, Bloody Violence, Language and brief Drug Use
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by: Diablo Cody
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, Adam Brody, Kyle Gallner, Cynthia Stevenson & Chris Pratt
In the Fall of 2009, it seemed like it was horror overload at the movie theater. There was practically a release every weekend. A few were mighty successful (ZOMBIELAND, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) and others flopped hard (PANDORUM, CIRQUE DU FREAK). JENNIFER’S BODY was a casualty of a oversaturated Halloween season, but the iffy marketing didn’t help matters either. The film received positive word of mouth from its Midnight Madness premiere at TIFF in early September and was penned by Diablo Cody (of JUNO fame). Reexamining the film today, JENNIFER just isn’t as cool, hip, funny, or scary as it tries to be. There are positive qualities, but they’re either balanced out or buried by the story’s flaws.
Needy (real name: Anita) is as obvious a dork as you can be. She’s good at school, does her homework, doesn’t sleep around and wears glasses. That’s why everyone is surprised that she’s always been best friends with the slutty, popular cheerleader Jennifer. It can be argued one of these two is a bad influence on the other, but I’ll let you decide if that’s possibly true or not. One night, the pair are at a rock concert in an isolated little bar and a fiery blaze ignites. It kills nearly everyone, but Jennifer and Needy make it out alive. While Needy goes home a weeping wreck, a dazed Jennifer gets into a creepy van with the indie band Low Shoulder and vanishes for the night. Jennifer returns to Needy a little more dangerous, sexy and with a new bloody appetite. Needy tries to juggle her love for her best friend with the monster Jennifer is becoming.
The biggest problem here is that a majority of the film relies on the relationship between Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer (Megan Fox), but there’s little to no chemistry between the two supposed life-long friends. Seyfried plays the dorky angle to a point that’s almost damn near clichéd beyond belief. Fox fails to deliver an ounce of talent as Jennifer. Her delivery is stitled, even in a role as meaty as a bitchy flesh-eating cheerleader. The best actor here is J.K. Simmons as a teacher with a hook for a hand, though he only pops up for about three scenes total. I also liked Johnny Simmons as a genuinely nice boyfriend to Needy and Adam Brody was awesome as the scumbag lead singer of Low Shoulder. However, the dialogue every cast member is given doesn’t leave much to work with. While Diablo Cody’s oddball sayings worked in JUNO, they don’t work here. In fact, a majority of them just add a “y” to the end of a word and call it good (jelly = jealous, shutty = shut up, wetty = wet, salty = cute, etc.). You practically need a decoder for some of the phrases in this film!
The plot is basically GINGER SNAPS (an awesome Canadian horror film) with a demonic twist as opposed to a werewolf. I enjoyed the nice touches that were thrown in with Low Shoulder banking on the tragedy there were playing at and exploiting it for fame and fortune. The frequent use of their song “Through The Trees” made me laugh nearly every time it popped up. It’s also not a bad tune either. A few twists come later on in the film and make the familiar story slightly more interesting. The bookending scenes are creative as well and I only wish that the entire film had sustained that level of wit.
The blending of horror and comedy isn’t very well done either. There’s far more comedy than horror and that’s not a big problem. However, not many laughs come out of the obvious jokes (puns or a sight gags). The movie also can’t seem to make up its mind about what kind of vibe it wants. I’m not referencing the uneven blend of laughs or creepiness, but rather if it wants the R rating or not. A handful of scenes have gore (one of which looks great) and the rest almost feels like a PG-13 flick aimed purely for Junior High kids or early High School cliques. This is probably what also contributed to it barely making its money back at the box office. JENNIFER’S BODY is a confused mess that isn’t aimed for anybody.
Little details that made me chuckle and the creative beginning/conclusion are redeeming qualities. There’s also a nice shot of very good-looking gore that only hints at what kind of horror-comedy this might have been if it had fully embraced its potential and the R rating already being handed to it. However, it falters under the weight of bad characters, lame dialogue and a worse story. The equal quantities of good and bad turn JENNIFER’S BODY out into a middle-of-the-road mess.