By Nick Antosca | September 18, 2009

The Bitch is Back

“Jennifer’s Body” is a trash-horror classic. I loathed “Juno,” the only previous film scripted by Diablo Cody, and I expected to hate “Jennifer’s Body,” too. For about fifteen minutes, I did hate it — and then it slowly started to work, and when it was over, I kind of loved it.

The difference between “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body,” I realized, was that Diablo Cody’s disgustingly smug dialogue — supposedly so winning when spoken by Juno — is much easier to swallow when it comes from characters who actually are disgustingly smug — like Jennifer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. “Jennifer’s Body,” which was directed by Karyn Kusama, is maybe not a “good” movie in the traditional sense. There’s a part near the beginning where a bar burns down, for example, that’s one of the most incompetently directed sequences I can remember seeing in a major motion picture. It’s completely unclear what happens. Did someone start the fire? Was it an accident? Why are people just standing around watching a concert while the fire is burning the building down around them? And, later, what’s up with the telepathic connection between Jennifer and her best friend that sometimes kicks in but sometimes doesn’t?

That said, “Jennifer’s Body” is still a super-entertaining movie. The main character is not, in fact, Jennifer (Megan Fox, as you surely know), but her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried). Needy is a nerd, of course (with glasses!), and Jennifer is a super-hot high school princess, but they’ve been friends since they were kids. In a nice reversal, it’s the blonde who’s the geek and the brunette who’s head cheerleader.

When some misogynistic indie rockers try to sacrifice Jennifer to Satan in exchange for making their band famous, they botch the ritual and she turns into a demon who has to kill and eat boys to slake her bloodlust. Suddenly all the boys who’ve been lusting after Jennifer start getting invited into the woods with her, or into abandoned houses, and then getting eviscerated. (But mocked before they die: “Oh, did you get a puncture wound? That’s so emo.”)

It almost seems like the marketing of “Jennifer’s Body,” with its relentless images of Fox in seductive poses without much clothing, is a sort of a meta-joke. The male audience members drawn in by such ads are just like Jennifer’s victims, the guys in the film who puppyishly follow her into the woods to be slaughtered, made dumb by lust. In a scene where she’s rabid, blood-drenched, and vomiting up some kind of black hell-slime, a guy sitting near me in the press screening leaned over to his friend and whispered, I swear to God, “I’d still f**k her.” So much for the film’s feminist aspirations, which are pretty murky anyway.

As a horror movie, though, it works. It’s bloody and nasty, and while I’ve heard other reviewers complain that there aren’t any scares, I thought the scene where Jennifer shows up at Needy’s house after the botched sacrifice covered in various people’s blood and roaring like a beast was pretty unsettling.

I’ve also heard reviewers say that Fox can’t act. She can. The sacrifice scene, while mostly played for laughs (“Do you have any idea how hard it is for an indie band these days?”), contains an element of disturbing realistic ugliness that depends on Fox’s very convincingly portraying a terrified woman at the mercy of a gang of men.

Seyfried, too, is excellent. She’s funny, convincing, and even occasionally poignant as a shy girl who kind of loves the best friend who’s walked all over her since they were little kids. When she and Fox fight it out in the climactic scenes, Seyfried does a great job of bringing the universal emotions of a betrayed friend into an utterly absurd situation.

I also liked the murder scenes, in which Fox shreds high school boys of all cliques. Those scenes send up the horror genre’s ironclad association of sex and death while also supplying some of its traditional visceral pleasures. One of the film’s better lines is the description of a dead football player as looking like “lasagna with teeth.”

Other wonderful lines, while I’m on the subject, include the following:

— “PMS isn’t real. It was invented by the boy-run media to make us seem crazy.”
— “Do you know what this is for?! It’s for cutting boxes!”
— “My tit.”

Okay, maybe you had to be there.

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