Jennifer’s Body is going to get a lot more scrutiny than the average summer horror flick (looking at you, Sorority Row), because it’s screenwriter Diablo Cody‘s first film since she won an Academy Award for Juno. But you probably know Cody’s resume already, just as you know that her trademark move is a specifically idiosyncratic form of dialogue, a patois that joins Tarantino’s and Kevin Williamson‘s in the “Man it would be great if people talked that way! Or, maybe not great but certainly interesting!” section.
So it’s kind of an understatement to say that high hopes accompanied this film in a way they wouldn’t other summer horror movies (please don’t make me look at you again, Sorority Row). And that’s not fair! But it’s the world we live in. So, quickly measuring it against other average horror movies…Jennifer’s Body comes out lacking. BECAUSE IT IS NOT SCARY. Which, to me, is kind of a significant component of a film in the genre.
Because you live in the world, you already have a decent idea of what Jennifer’s Body is about. Two friends, one hottie (title character, played by Megan Fox), one wingman (nicknamed “Needy” and leave it to Hollywood to make the dumpy wingman the super hot dead friend from Veronica Mars! God forbid an appearance-challenged person make it onscreen in a movie that is not Precious) are torn apart when the hottie gets even hotter after becoming possessed by a succubus that needs to eat people (I guess) in order to remain hottie.
The friends who get torn apart because one is dumpy and the other is batshit is as old as Baby Jane Hudson, and this film references them all (Poison Ivy lezzie stuff! Ginger Snaps please enable my need to eat flesh conversation!). Then it adds an overlay of sorta-kinda-feminist stuff — Breasts are smart bombs! — all set in a world nearly sans adult men.
(That said, it is men who inform the entire film. Jennifer goes from “high school evil” to “evil evil” at the hands of men, her kills are all men powerless to deny her charms, and Needy’s eventual confrontation of Jennifer is an effort to protect her erstwhile boyfriend.)
OK, here’s the thing: if you’re anything like me, when you watch this movie you’ll feel really smart for “getting” a lot of this shit. “Oh, look, what a clever take on Clover!” or “Ah, yes, I recall the concept of Menstruum Quasi Monstrum from Women’s Studies!” I call this the “Laughing at Frasier” effect — no one really things Frasier is funny, but people laugh at it because it makes references you get from your liberal arts core requirements classes and you’re still paying those fuckers off so hahaha. And, some days, we need a movie to make us feel smart. I get that.
But these layers of references, plus the ornate dialogue, is also what strangles Jennifer’s Body’s potential as a great, straight horror movie. Every actor in the movie does a valiant job of trying to make all these flourishes seem natural (and the performances are definitely a cut above — no, not looking at you again, SR — the typical entry in the genre), but there’s only so much they can do.
I hate to bring up Williamson and Tarantino again, but I must — because they’re meta, too, but they can also bring the scary. Scream, Death Proof, etc all managed to work past the film nerd shit to genuinely give you the creeps. But, sadly, Jennifer’s Body never hits escape velocity from its smarty-pants atmosphere. (And, as long as we’re making unfair comparisons, have you seen The Descent? It’s seriously the best dissection of female friendship I’ve ever seen, and it is scary as fuck. So we know it’s possible.)
Man, this review probably seems like a mess (what I’d give for the Chronicle’s Little Man right now!) but that’s actually in Jennifer’s Body’s favor, because what that means is that I’m still thinking about it. It was interesting! And it’s entertaining, and I was never bored. But I was never invested. Go see it (it opens today) and let’s discuss.