Amanda Seyfried doing that “ugly nerd” acting thing.

Before we begin with the main body of this article, I’m going to introduce the new “Feature” I am adding to my blog. Friday Night Netflix will be a series of posts (on Fridays!) about lesser known or underrated gems which currently populate the Netflix queue for Canadian subscribers (and hopefully Americans too!). If you don’t find a movie I get you interested in right away, use the “search” feature. I’m always surprised by how many nards don’t know that the “featured selections” categories is not even close to the true scope of Netflix’s library. A library which is severely limited in Canada to begin with. I will try to refrain from spoiling these movies in the body article (comments section is fair game!) since the idea is to get people to check out movies they may otherwise not while bored and wondering what to watch on their Netflix.

Anyway, on with the review.

The first time I saw Jennifer’s Body, I was already having a pretty disappointing night. It was New Year’s Eve 2009 and even though I was with a girl I was certifiably crazy about, I’d chosen that night to make certain introductions. Like many such nights, and like How I Met Your Mother cleverly notes, there were grand expectations which were probably impossible to meet. However, walking into a New Year’s Eve party where the only people doing any serious drinking are playing a game of monopoly out of sheer boredom as the rest of “the party” sits around watching first Year One and then some gutter-level horror movie starring Megan Fox is a disappointing experience that transcends the established level of disappointment elemental to New Year’s Eve.

So it was with an incredulous mood that I sat down for this movie. I did notice some of the clever dialogue and was unsurprised to learn that Diablo Cody (Juno) had written it. I didn’t think it was a bad movie, even, I just refused to let it have an impact on me. When it ended and no party had taken shape, I excused myself and led my then-girlfriend the fuck outta there.

Turning the person we know in the left picture into that evil face in the right picture is probably a genius bit of meta commentary.

But recently I read a reexamination of Jennifer’s Body and some theories, from a female perspective, about why it was generally unnoticed or outright hated when it probably deserved a lot better. One of the theories is that the depths of hatred for Megan Fox were up to that point kind of untapped only to be borne fully against a movie that featured her as a lead. Of course, another argument goes that Fox’s profile was actually exploited and therefore making her the villain of the piece is sort of a genius move. Aside from this was the obvious feminist-friendly position that this is a movie written and directed by two women, starring and about women, and subverting many of the more men-friendly tropes of the teen horror genre. It was a while ago that I read the article and whether I agree with its positions or not, it definitely made me want to check Jennifer’s Body out a bit more thoroughly and with a more clinical mindset. See what I did there? No?

Moving on…

Within about ten minutes, I was already surprised and delighted by the movie. First there was seeing Johnny Simmons (who plays Chip) in the one role he’s known for aside from perfectly playing Neil Young in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I had forgotten he was in this. His presence de facto does the movie good. Next was the ridiculously great dialogue, most of which is placed directly in the mouth of Megan Fox.  From practically word one, the movie seemingly invents new and clever slang in the same way Juno seemed to. You may not believe anyone really talks like Jennifer, but you don’t have to. Having Megan Fox as the mouthpiece of the movie is genius, giving her shades of evil bitchiness that only heighten her inevitable monstrous nature. One of the best parts of this is that she is still pretty much herself and while a girl like Needy might have had some serious angst and self-loathing at becoming a sort of vampire, Jennifer takes it in stride and pretty much enjoys the “X-men shit” that happens to her. And give Fox some credit. She avoided the sun and lost weight for this role. I have to respect that even though it totally destroyed her as  a sex symbol for me post-Transformers.

A lot of subtext is available for the armchair feminist or even casual analysts of the genre. Jennifer’s Body is a movie about the insidious nature of high school female friendships, or at least a pastiche of them. Needy (Seyfried) is the “ugly friend” that the insecure better looking friend hangs out with to make themselves look and feel better. This trope could have been explored in an after-school special. I knew girls like this in high school and the relationship feels true so that this is a monster movie with some attention paid to realities of the high school (and beyond probably) experience is a huge bonus. Beyond that, there’s major traction in the film’s ambition to repurpose the conventions of the genre in favor of its narrative.

While there’s the requisite amount of gore, sex, and icky thrills… all of it is played as symbolic more than as titillating and expected elements of the genre. For example, the gore is often ridiculously unsettling while also being kind of funny, the black demon vomit is reminiscent of bulimia (the kind of thing a girl like Jennifer would be all about), and the sex is in turns refreshingly unfettered (Chip and Needy) or just another weapon in a misanthropic sociopath’s arsenal. When I say symbolic, I don’t mean in the heavy sense that critics have assigned to the arc normally found in slasher films like Halloween or Friday the 13th. Some of that stuff is present, but the symbolism is more honest and grounded than the decidedly esoteric interpretations sometimes given for other teen horror films. Leslie Vernon’s explanation of the young heroine’s symbolic journey (in the great Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a total deconstruction of this genre made as both a faux doc and a movie within a movie… seriously look for it if you haven’t seen it) comes immediately to mind.

One of the things I can also say about Jennifer’s Body is that it looks good. Karyn Kusama put together some really nice sequences, some of which flirt with grand expressions of isolation. The two shots that exemplify this are the shot of Jennifer swimming alone in the lake after claiming a victim and another of emo-kid Chas crossing a dark street. On top of that, the musical sensibilities are awesome. There’s a heavy instrumental theme that undercuts the winkingly bland (but easy to imagine on a top 40) songs by in-movie band Low Shoulder. The band, led by Adam Brody, is hilarious. They are bumbling, culturally aware weekend Satanists who just want to be famous. Brody is almost as funny and unlikable as Fox in this movie. The ritual scene is grand. The Low Shoulder songs are shit, but they’re supposed to be. The other music is awesome. Florence and the Machine? Yes please.

There are a lot of things to like about this movie. Great sense of humor, great horror, a good supporting cast with plenty of winks and meta shenanigans for them to have fun with. It even has decent music and technical chops. Why do people hate it? I mean, the one misstep is the framing device and ending. It makes this into an empowerment fantasy and smacks of Cody wanting to have her cake and eat it to in terms of what she was all trying to tackle.

As such, Jennifer’s Body is an ambitious and smart movie with its influences on its sleeve. It reaches a little too high once or twice but is ultimately pretty fucking good.

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