You know, it’s been 17-years since Quentin Tarantino gave the world RESERVIOR DOGS and 14 since Amy Heckerling revisited High School in CLUELESS. It should come as no shock to anyone that in the three years that stretched between those films’ releases in 1992 and 1995, that JENNIFER’S BODY screenwriter Diablo Cody (JUNO) was smack-dab in the throws of her teenage glory days.
In so many ways Cody is the perfect amalgamation of Tarantino and Heckerling. She chronicles high school with a life-is-pain and I’ve been-there-and-done-that vibe that makes her a post-modern Judy Blume for the iPod generation. At the same time, she spews pop culture run-amok dialogue that would have Tarantino disciples burning out their cable modems querying Urban Dictionary entries just to keep up with her. To say JENNIFER’S BODY is a “Diablo Cody film” is not just a mark of pride, it’s damn near a fucking brand name.
Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is the “it-girl” of Devil’s Kettle High School. She’s the queen bee buzzing in a hive of losers, wannabes and never-wills. It’s stifling in small town USA and the she just wants to spread her bitch wings and fly. So she drags her BFF, Needy (Amanda Seyfried) to the local club (which is really just a shitty bar) to see a big city Emo-pop band play. Her plan is simple….screw the singers brains out. But things don’t go as planned and a fire razes the club killing a dozen patrons. Jennifer and Needy escape unharmed but, still in shock, Jennifer winds up virtually kidnapped by the band, leaving Needy alone in the parking lot. Later when Jennifer returns, covered in blood, starving for food, and vomiting a black tar like slime all over the linoleum floor, Needy knows something is terribly wrong with her friend. Jennifer’s evil now…”Not high school evil”. She’s a flesh-feasting demon intent on devouring the male population of Devil’s Kettle High School and Needy is the only one who knows what she really is and how to stop her.
It would be great if I could tell you that everything about JENNIFER’S BODY was gangbusters brilliant and the film is flawless. It would be wonderful if Cody’s whip-smart dialogue was serving a greater purpose, in the same way that it did when it won her the Oscar for scribing JUNO. But in reality this film is as likely to turn off patrons as it turns them on. It’s self-aware on a level that would make Kevin Williamson blush. And, by that I don’t mean that the film is setting up horror movie cliché’s and knocking them down at the same time it mocks them. I mean that–only a week after SORORITY ROW–bowed into the multiplexes–audiences are set up with another film that features smart-ass quips delivered by pretty people in the midst of what would normally be considered precarious circumstances. It works here a hell of a lot better than it did in SORORITY ROW but it still unnerves the viewer. What Williamson did in his seminal teen-thriller SCREAM was know when to dial down the coolness quotient and kick in the bloody-curdling terror. JENNIFER’S BODY never does that. Truth be told, I’m not even sure it wants to do that. And that’s the problem with the film; it’s scattershot in terms of intent. I know it wants to be funny, but I don’t know if it wants to be scary. And that’s some frighteningly thin ice for a film to skate on.
What does work in the film is both obvious and surprising. It would come of no shock to all the fanboys that Megan Fox is walking talking sex on stems. But after a pair of performances in TRANSFORMERS that made the CGI Robots look like Lawrence Olivier in HAMLET, the actress has finally stepped into a role that frankly she was born to play–an alpha-male bitch monster from hell. Equally adept at seducing anything–male or female–with a coo from her soft lips, it’s not hard to imagine her literally leveling the entire populate of a town with nothing but a smile and a set of sharp teeth.
As her foil in the film, Needy is such a vision of down home sweetness that Cody is forced to explain how she and uber-vamp Jennifer could even possibly be from the same universe, let alone friends. What’s interesting and indeed even layered in the subtext of the film is that Jennifer really covets what Needy has. It’s a plausible and venerable decision, and one that almost allows the viewer to root for the bad girl. It’s not that we want to see Jennifer take out Needy, it’s just that we sort of feel bad for her in the end. In some respects it’s amazing that underneath all the day-glo superficiality that the film is wallowing in, there is a kind of other dimension that almost no studio horror film is striving to achieve.
Diablo Cody will certainly not replicate the critical success and accolades that were bestowed upon JUNO with the categorically narrow appeal of a teen horror-comedy. But, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t delivered a satisfying film that will no doubt hold up to (and perhaps even age gracefully with) repeat viewings. And with the exception of Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL, I’m not sure I can say that about any other major studio horror film of 2009.