Review: “Jennifer’s Body”: Girl power failure

jenniferneedyAmanda Seyfried had a bad night

Believe me, I dig a good girl-power flick as much as the next ‘mo. There’s nothing I like more than seeing the underdogs get the upper hand and topple the dominant paradigm (thanks, college!) and let’s face it: in the world of horror, the ladies usually have to hack and slash their way to the top.

So it pains me to say that, while competently written and well-intentioned, the teen ladybusiness horror flick Jennifer’s Body is pretty much dead-on-arrival. Though it clearly admires – even borrows from – such solid girl-on-girl smackdowns as Ginger Snaps, Heathers and possibly even the obscure animal-happy Carrie ripoff Jennifer (yes, I just said that out loud), it fails to capture much of those movies’ anger, bite, or icky adolescent truth.

Basic setup: Bestest galpals (Amanda Seyfried‘s Needy and Megan Fox‘s Jennifer) couldn’t be more different, but when one of them becomes inhabited by something Truly Evil and starts devouring all the boys at school (including setting her sights on her mousy BFF’s sweet beau), it is up to Debbie Downer to put the bitch underground.

jenniferchipJohnny Simmons and Megan Fox

If this sounds a bit like the excellent Canadian werewolf flick Ginger Snaps … well, that’s ‘cuz it is.

Like, a LOT.

But while Snaps‘s central conflict hinged on one sister’s sexual maturing leaving the other girl behind, Jennifer’s Body doesn’t bother with potentially messy psychosexual underpinnings and sticks to a pretty generic “boys suck!” theme. (Jennifer’s dietary woes stem from a Killers-esque emo band who bring their eyeliner and witchcrafty ways to the small town.)

Now, horror movies of course don’t have to have complicated subtexts and metaphors and hoozey-doozey, as long as they’re still fun, or scary, or shocking or … something. Unfortunately, though it has an interestingly bleak look and a few artful moments, Jennifer’s Body is just kinda dull. I don’t even know if I’d classify it as a horror movie – sure, it’s bloody and its plot is propped up by horror elements, but it’s not scary or horrific at all. It’s more of a very dark comedy (a la Heathers) with some fake blood and Halloween store contacts thrown in. And while Heathers took things waaaay past the threshold of appropriateness with its teen suicide humor and bomb-the-school premise (which is what makes it so genius), Jennifer’s Body‘s “my best friend is a total bitch” high water mark is, by comparison, a bit meh.

On the other hand, it’s not really funny enough to be a comedy. A few elements are actually pretty disturbing: aside from the murders there is a fire that kills dozens, and a rather long scene that cross-cuts between Needy losing her virginity and Jennifer eating the kid from Haunting in Connecticut feels out-of-place for even a dark comedy. And while a few of the proudly precious quips (scripter Diablo Cody‘s stock-in-trade, not that there’s particularly anything wrong with that) are amusing, most of it sounds all too familiar after two years of Juno-talking teen clones.

jenniferjenniferJennifer plays (in the) dirty pool

All this said, it’s not a bad movie, really. It’s watchable, competently made, and features some nice acting by both the young cast (Seyfried, in particular, and newcomer Johnny Simmons as her doting BF … and am I the only one who found The OC‘s Adam Brody hot for the first time ever here?) and some well-placed cameos by folks like Amy Sedaris (totally underused as Needy’s mom), Cynthia Stevenson (where the fuck has SHE been?!) and J.K. Simmons. It’s not an out-and-out trainwreck, but more of a boring but ultimately forgettable bus ride home to visit your parents.

I actually think that the movie will have a healthy life on cable and DVD. And not just because girls rent more horror than boys and this is a chick-focused movie. No, this movie also has something else going on that definitely makes it a “renter”: The somewhat random girl-on-girl makeout scene between Seyfried and Fox.

Okay, maybe it’s because I’ve never seen The L Word, but I actually found this scene a bit shocking. I was expecting a kiss (since it’s all anyone could talk about when promoting the movie) but this is more than that: It’s a close-up of some serious tonsil-tennis that lasts several minutes. Mercy! And let’s face it: Straight guys who are going to get off on watching straight girls make out aren’t going to go see it in the theater … they’re going to wait until they can enjoy it in the comfort of their parents’ basements.

It’s also worth noting that the climactic face-off between the gals happens … on a bed. Now, I don’t know director Karyn Kusama (who also directed Girlfight and Aeon Flux) from Karen O., but I have a suspicion that she may be a “friend of Ellen”. Not that it should matter, of course … but wouldn’t it be cool if we had an out lesbian horror director working in Hollywood? (Next step: A good movie!)

So while Jennifer’s Body is a teensy bit more dykeadelic than Ginger Snaps or Heathers, that’s really the only thing setting it apart from any other teen horror comedy. I would have loved another seriously kickass chick horror flick on par with The Descent, but honestly the Theta Pi girls of Sorority Row have more moxie (not to mention a higher alcohol tolerance) than anything in this Body bag.



PS – And how can you have a movie named after a Hole song and then not even use that song in the movie? The Hole song that they DO use at the end credits is actually “Violet”, not “Jennifer’s Body”. Whaaaah?

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Buzz created in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.