Jennifer's Body (Theatrical & Unrated)
Fox // R // $29.99 // December 29, 2009
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted December 15, 2009
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The Film:

Though Diablo Cody's script for Juno has opponents because of its blatantly kitsch dialogue, I still firmly believe that it retains an earnestness of direction and finely-pitched charm. In that setting, slightly obnoxious statements like "your eggo's preggo" and "honest to blog" match the rhythm between Ellen Page (Juno) and Olivia Thirlby (Leah) exceptionally under Jason Reitman's direction. Jennifer's Body, a comedy-horror hybrid and Cody's sophomore screenwriting effort, showcases an absolutely erroneous setting for her signature style. Like water mixing with oil, it combines the tawdry, hip dialogue from her Oscar-winning work with the likes of Ginger Snaps' angst-riddled tension around teenage growth. As it turns out, sinking her teeth into horror -- a Megan Fox vehicle of a vampire/demon flick, mind you -- ends up being one of the worst decisions she could make as a follow-up to her Academy award-winning work.

Fox plays Jennifer, a hot-bodied wild child who chases after "salty" (read: good-looking) band leaders and slums around with her socially lower-ranked "BFF" Needy (Amanda Seyfried, "Big Love"). Needy's a hidden gem of a girl, cute but not as stand-out as her fawned-over friend, who's content in having a tightly-knit friendship with Jennifer, and Jennifer alone, while keeping up with a pretty average relationship with her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons). One night, the female dynamic duo head off to the local watering hole to see a Myspace-powered emo band, Low Shoulder, only to find the place going up in flames once their set starts. After they escape, a shell-shocked Jennifer is hauled away by the band in their minivan -- and returns to Needy's house much later, drenched in blood and hungry.

What happens following Jennifer's turning point is pretty much expected: alluring high-school girl uses her charms to munch up people -- "No, I'm killing boys" -- while her best friend tries to figure out how to fix it. Jennifer's rampage mirrors the bloody happenings in Ginger Snaps almost to a point, with maybe a splash of the transformation in Neve Campbell's character in The Craft for good measure. It's nothing terribly original, equipped with psychosexual lesbian-like pandering from the bluntly-named "Needy" and a few obvious "target" dudes thrown into the mix that are clearly cannon fodder. People begin to die and other people begin to grow concerned, while Jennifer fluffs her hair and continues on being evil. Not high-school evil, but real evil.

So, where exactly does Jennifer's Body go terribly wrong? It's hard to tell: either in the way Megan Fox delivers Diablo Cody's dialogue, or Cody's writing clashing with the rhythm of the film. What leans me to think that it's Fox comes in reading some of the dialogue on paper; her talk about a woman's chest being "smart bombs" and about PMS being a myth are actually somewhat humorous in their core form. However, they fall completely flat when coming out of Fox's mouth. She certainly looks the part, even more so when some of the gore starts spewing, but her attitude as Jennifer is, to say the least, uninspired. Even in the trailers, Fox seems like she could pull the character off -- not just the bloodthirsty vampire (or succubus, or demon's spawn, what have you), but possibly the whole cheerleader-esque entity. She's more of a chore than a charmer as the central plot device in the film, and no amount of talent from the underappreciated Amanda Seyfried can mask it.

But the blame really can't all be pawned off on Fox. As much as I enjoyed Diablo Cody's unique, timely plays on dialogue in Juno, they simply fizzle in Jennifer's Body. It starts with a slight rehash of the Thailand meme from her freshman script, continues with talks about "jello" (a kooky take on "jealous") and "Hello Titty", and zooms down a slippery slope from there once the carnage begins. For her signature verbose to work, it's got to be scattered atop a story that's got a heart beating at the core, and that simply isn't this flick's modus operandi. In fact, the dialogue manages to ruin quite a few moderately strong sequences. That includes an otherwise fine finale, only crumbled by a cringe-worthy, ridiculous line from Fox. Again, some of the gags from Jennifer's Body read fine on paper, but under this context -- and under Aeon Flux director Karyn Kusama's direction -- they fall about as flat as an upright corpse tumbling out of a casket.

It's a shame, because the few bloody terror elements in Jennifer's Body are handled with impressive composure. From Jennifer's transformation to her handful of succubus-esque outbursts, it latches onto gross-out horror with a great eye for what to show and what NOT to show -- including brilliant execution of a kill sequence that takes place only in shadows against the wall. These flashes are few and far between though, and we've got to wade through a lot of mashed-together hipster goofiness in order to get to the meat of the matter. Jennifer's Body feels every thread of 100+ minutes long because of its tonal badgering, while grinding on the nerves and assailing our eyes with every cringe-worthy misstep. Just shake it off, Diablo Cody, and give us something "saltier" with your next effort.

The DVD:

Fox have made Jennifer's Body available with both the Theatrical (1:42:16) and the five-minute longer Extended (1:47:23) versions of the film on the same disc via seamless branching. Some of the differences are covered below, in the Commentaries section (since director Karyn Kusama takes the time to discuss all of the differences in the second "commentary").

Video and Audio:

Fox have sent out watermarked screener copies of Jennifer's Body, so final assessment can't be made on the transfer / audio quality as of this writing. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish options, along with an English 5.1 and both Spanish and French 2.0 tracks. We'll report back once a finalized copy is in-hand.

Special Features:

Two Commentaries:
One commentary track, paired with the theatrical version, involves director Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody. They discuss Amanda Seyfried's beauty, Chip as a typical boy archetype, Diable Cody ripping off Rosemary's Baby, and the parallels between horror and comedy that they crossed. It's not a terribly in-depth track, but the content does dive a little deeper than simply character elaboration -- like discussion about why the ferret's named Specter, why they decided to incorporate special effects into the black bile in Megan Fox's transform scene, and the balance between realism and fantasy.

The other track, paired with the Extended cut of the film, features Karyn Kusama alone. It directly reflects the differences between the two cuts, but it doesn't cover the entire film. Selecting Play All causes the film to cut from scene to scene, instead of playing seamlessly across the entire film. It comes to about 30:11 of discussion, which emphasizes shifts in material (rearrangement of the beginning), differences in the bar fire sequence, reinstating the "parental rage" sequence (read: nuts nailed to the door sequence), restructuring of dream sequences, and small incoroprations -- like holding on Seyfried for a beat during the big kiss sequence or different lines of dialogue that Kusama wanted to preserve. Director Kusama states that her extended cut "flies the freak flag higher", which a pretty good assessment of this Extended cut of the film. Honestly, the Theatrical Cut was cut much more appropriately.

Also included are a series of Trailers, none of which are for Jennifer's Body.

Final Thoughts:

After seeing the trailer and hearing about Diablo Cody's penmanship, it's hard not to get ramped up for Jennifer's Body. Having the current it-girl from Transformers hack, slash 'n gobble up boys as a vampire-like creature sounds promising, yet it turns out that none of it really gels. It contains all the elments you'd expect -- the dialogue quirkiness, a handful of decent horror sequences, and a small sense of symbolic material about -- and swirls them together into an uneven, mostly humorless wreck that's meagerly spine-tingling at only a few points throughout the film. Those looking for a "so bad, it's good" experience will have a fine time renting this, but most will be a lot more satisfied if they just Skip it.

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