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Movie Review: Jennifer’s Body

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"Hell is a teenage girl…"

Jennifer's Body (2009), directed by Karyn Susama (Æon Flux,
Girlfight), written by Diablo Cody (Juno, The United States of Tara), and produced by Jason Reitman (In God We Trust, Thank You for Smoking, Juno) is a horror film/dark comedy, starring two fetching upcoming young actresses: Megan Fox (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Transformers 1 and 2) and Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Mamma Mia!). Although having different approaches toward their craft, Megan and Amanda share a very suggestive physical beauty and an increasingly large fan base.

Amanda Seyfried plays Anita/Needy Lesnicky, 17 years old, an attractive nerd, a National Merit scholar, and Megan Fox is her best friend Jennifer Check, a sexy Flag Team Quarterly cheerleader; the two have been practically sisters since they were pre-verbal. Needy watches Snow Flake Queen Jennifer with admiration during her cheerleader parades in Devil's Kettle ("Jennifer told me track was for lezzies"), a small town in rural Minessota. Diablo Cody called herself "middle class trash from the Midwest" in one of her MySpace blogs.

Cody also is a "horror junkie," telling the L.A. Times, "There's the idea of the adolescent feminine mystique being inherently creepy."

Most of the shooting was done in Canada, and the school scenes were shot at University Hill Secondary School in Vancouver. There is another Canada-USA film, Ginger Snaps (2000), directed by John Fawcett, which has many thematic points in common with Jennifers's Body. In Ginger Snaps two sisters are obsessed with death and gothic imagery. When one of the girls experiences her first menstruation, a metaphor for puberty/monstruosity is latent within the plot. Ginger (who is transformed into a serial boy dater/attacker) confides in her plain Jane sister Brigitte: "I get this ache, and I thought it was for sex; but it's to tear everything to fucking pieces!"

The motif of two best girl friends in the cinema, one being the dominant seductress (Nikki Reed in Thirteen, whose director Catherine Hardwicke talked about homoeroticism between Evie and Melanie, Drew Barrymore in Poison Ivy, Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) and the other a shy duckling ("Ugly Ashley"/Little Needy in this story) forces the viewer to cull one of the two when the predatory girl reclaims the biggest part of their common Lebensraum.

"I've climbed through Jennifer's window so many times. But tonight, only one of us is going to come out," a determined Needy recalls. Like the characters in Juno, Needy and Jen live in a conventional provincial town and construct word games.

Also present here is a reference to Hole ("Jennifer's Body" is the song that gives the movie its title). In Juno, Ellen Page's character bonded with Jason Bateman's playing another Hole song. Instead of a cheesy burger phone, Needy's friends Jennifer and Chip love sea creatures in film, as Orca and Aquamarine. Leah (Olivia Thirlby, Juno's benign cheerleader sidekick) is now a mega-sassy, rather negative figure here.

The soundtrack is full of self-explanatory tunes like "Finishing School" by Dashboard Confessional, "Toxic Valentine" by All Time Low, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend" by Black Kids, the conducting theme "Through the Trees" ("Heal the Ruins Left Inside You") by Low Shoulder, and a bonus — "Violet" by Hole.

Needy is owlish and bookish-looking, and Jennifer is the local beauty, with a bodacious build and ebullient sexuality. She's loquacious and irreverent toward everybody in school since she thinks she's a cut above her classmates. The two girls feel like outcasts for different reasons. They call each other "Monistat" and "Vagisil."

Needy is interested in Chip Dove (Johnny Simmons, Evan's Almighty), the nerdiest boy in town who plays the snare drum in the pep band. He's reminiscent of Bleeker in Juno, although a bit less paralyzed than Michael Cera. He's a mix of mama's boy and clueless first lover wannabe, buying Sensual Swirl orange condoms at Super Target. Chip adores Needy but is also intrigued by Jennifer's sexual exuberance, a fact that Needy resents profoundly, and therefore it forces her to doubt for first time the nature of her umbilical friendship with Jennifer. There is a well defined prolepsis here in a flashback structure, narrating the progression from an innocent friendship to more adult kiss games that show us how Jennifer exerts an underlying sexual control over Needy ("We can play boyfriend/girlfriend"), although Jennifer would never confess that control is rooted in her ditzy insecurities and underestimation of Needy which causes her to want to always be the center of attention or even to intrude in Chip and Needy's relationship.

"It smells like Thai food in here. Have you guys been fucking?" Jennifer asks with her usual bluntly vulgar quips.

This contradiction between Jennifer's sexual self-awareness and her desire to achieve a level of maturity that Needy brings off naturally would explain why Jennifer (victim of peer pressure over her image) is destined to become the villainess of the story, whereas Needy is the rough diamond, the smart cookie with a heart of lead and a steel will.

Adam Brody (The Ring, Thank You for Smoking) plays the lead singer of Low Shoulder, Nikolai Wolf, sporting a smooth gait and dyed black hair, and Juan Riedinger is the reluctant bassist Dirk. The unknown group aspires to make a Faustian deal involving rituals with a sacrificed virgin. The détonant for this irreversible conversion of pretty Jennifer to evil zombie vamp is after a Chrysler Sebring ride to a concert inside The Melody Lane, a small dive where our girls drink Peach Schnapps, play inexperienced groupies for this sleek band (famous in MySpace), under the jealous eye of the local boys and police officer Roman Duda (Chris Pratt) who dislikes these city "faygos".

The idea of rockers looking for fame at any cost was jocosely exercised in Oh, God! You Devil (1984). But these are callous Maroon 5 wannabes who print out a satanic ritual found through a Google search. After this macabre offering to the Devil goes awry, the sacrificial victim, Jennifer (who isn't "even a back-door virgin"), begins to lose her beauty and energy. To regain it back, she needs to prey on her school "morsels"/courters. She can flick a Zippo lighter and lick the flame with her tongue without burning it, flaunting of her new skills to a scared and distrusting Needy.

Needy: You're killing people?
Jennifer: No. I'm killing boys.

Needy: I thought you only murdered boys.
Jennifer: I go both ways.

The actress Megan Fox has expressed her bisexuality and how she refers to men as boys due to her "superiority complex" towards them. She's the ideal performer to flesh Jennifer out in a hyperreal sense and to sell it us.

When Jennifer transforms into a literally drop-dead gorgeous man-eater succubus (thanks to make-up artist Greg Nicotero and KNB's CGI effects), her eyes sparkle like a reptile's. Her snaky teasing victimizes young men, taking over the domineering male reins. Some species of lizards which reproduce by parthenogenesis, whose non-fertilized eggs grow into adults, no longer have males.

In the book by Donald J. Greiner Women Without Men: Female Bonding and the American Novel of the 1980s, Nancy Chodorow is quoted: "…a female's adult relationship with a male is unlikely to provide total satisfaction."

"Many female friendship films," as Teresa de Lauretis has suggested, "are resolved in ways that are beneficial to patriarchy." (In the Company of Women: Contemporary Female Friendship Films, by Karen Hollinger)

Amanda Seyfried excels in this story as the dorky babe who feels initially betrayed by the lupine Jennifer, but who overcomes her shock and doesn't mind tasting the dark side while defending her classmates from a deadly fate. Seyfried's expressive silvery blue eyes encircle a splendid dimension of demure, unassimilable pain and final acceptance of her own dippy cruelty, which deters her from pitying Jennifer. Her small world is destroyed when she realizes the outré version of her sandbox friend ("You were never a good friend… you used to steal my toys"), and the monstruous Jennifer, towards whom she felt hopelessly "needy", was almost the same.

Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy) is Toni Lesnicky, Needy's mom, a "Ford-tough mama-bear" addicted to Lunestas for sleep, overworked and enslaved to swinging shifts. Kyle Gallner plays the goth kid (complete with piercings and Hot Topic wardrobe) Colin Gray who has a crush on Needy and a fatal lust for Jennifer. J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man, Juno, Rendition, Extract) is a quirky teacher with a robotic hand who again is a smashing asset in the movie.

Cody's script, a self-described “crazy, chaotic homage” to the horror films of her youth, is so hilarious at moments that it modifies the typical oppressive moments that plague this genre. There is an homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, when the beauty in danger hysterically begs a bunch of yobbos. Needy's '80s-style magenta dress and her entrance wearing a blood-tinged bodice at her prom, while she's looked down by her classmates as a "clumpy" figure, is an updated reference to Carrie. A victim-to-be singing in a car is a wink to one scene from The Silence of the Lambs. Heathers is present in the Heather Chandler treatment that Cody gives a transferred Jennifer or the gullible jock Jonas. "Is that my Evil Dead t-shirt?" is a reference to Sam Raimi's horror classic. Also I thought of an 80's vampire movie The Lost Boys ("You'll never grow old… you'll never die. But you must feed!").

"My skin is breaking out. It's like I'm one of the normal girls," Jennifer whines to Needy, who is irritated at being seen only as normal. But she's far from normal, she's special for Chip, and her showdown against Jennifer at the high school prom Turnabout dance, for defending her wonky boyfriend, will make her a ruthless fighter.

"But horror is a surprisingly feminist genre," Cody said. "The last person standing is usually a woman. And most of the guys in this movie are vain and insecure. You'll notice there are no fathers in this movie. I didn't want there to be any male role models…"

Jennifer needs all of us to be frightened and hopeless in order to feel more alive herself, at least alive for a bit longer. That's the prize of seduction, of a physically pleasing facade going to pieces. She must devour us before we use all her body up. Needy is the real lead in the story because of her generous range. When she is confined at Leech Lake Women's Correctional Hospital, she's already scrubbed Jennifer's carnage off her soul, but she still feeds off her wild friend.

Karyn Kusama has announced the theatrical version will be slightly different to the DVD's director cut, and that a sequel to Jennifer's Body is a possibility in a few years.

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About Kendrac

I'm a Catalonian freelance writer, poetress and film critic. My favourite genre is Noir. My real name is Elena Gonzalvo.
  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com NancyGail

    From the promos, one of the guys looks like either TJ Knight from Gray’s Anatomy or Eric Millegan for Bones. Which only goes to show actors can be carbon copies.

  • http://jake-weird.blogspot.com Kendra

    yes, Kyle Gallner (Colin Gray in “Jennifer’s Body”) resembles Eric Millegan quite a bit.

  • http://carolinehagood.typepad.com/ Caroline Hagood

    Thanks for the thoughtful review about a movie I was really hoping would be good.

  • Five pages!?

    So…um…is it good?

  • http://jake-weird.blogspot.com kendra

    you’re very welcome, Caroline, thanks!

    Five pages: as Roger Ebert said it’s not Juno or Girlfight, but it’s still a good, engaging dark horror comedy.