Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Just Relax, Just Relax, Just Go To Sleep

 Jennifer's Body (2009)

I never saw the critically-acclaimed Juno -- I couldn't bear that "doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet" bit in the trailer. Shudder! But I was interested in Diablo Cody's follow-up, because I'm willing to give a lot more benefit of the doubt to a gory tale of demonic possession. Even when it's named after a Hole song. Now that I've seen it, I'm not surprised that it flopped, mainly because it's much more in line with Heathers or Twin Peaks than, say, the current crop of Friday the 13th remakes, and those were cult phenomena. 

Jennifer's Body follows a pair of mismatched Minnesota girls who've been best friends all their lives. Wallflowerish Needy is played by Amanda Seyfried, who shone as both the wild, charismatic flashback girl in Veronica Mars (hey, shades of Twin Peaks again!) and as the sensible daughter appalled by her own family on Big Love. Sexy, domineering Jennifer is played by Megan Fox, showing more range than she did in Transformers. One night, they go out to see an upcoming indie band, and before you know it, the roadhouse burns down, a human sacrifice goes awry, and Jennifer starts eating high school boys (with the side effect, Needy notes, that "her hair is amazing").

Everything about the scenario has metaphoric weight. What do you do when someone you love seems to turn into a demon? This is, sadly, a real-life situation many people have to face; it's just usually not so literal. It's a good touch that Needy is actually on the scene, watching helplessly as her friend makes her fatal mistake, after which she will never be the same again. Then there's the Satan-worshippers, prepared to sacrifice others -- anybody, really -- for the most shallow of ambitions (they want to be the next Maroon 5). Heedless actions have unforeseeable consequences all over the place. And, of course, the prettiest, hottest girl in school becomes a literal man-eater. Driven by insecurity and emptiness, she preys on others to make herself feel alive.

Maybe that's actually a little too much metaphor, with the emotional undercurrents a little too close to the surface. But I didn't find it too heavy-handed, and after all, a lot of teencentric horror films never get past the symbolic meaning that "sex can be dangerous." And it does, in fact, work as a compact, fairly gory little horror film, so no complaints on that score.

P.S. On Big Love, Seyfried plays Bill Paxton's daughter. He of course starred in the demon-hunting family drama Frailty. Apparently, it runs in the family!


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Do you have a theory why horror fandom at large seems to loathe the film so much?
I got a certain "Help, girl cooties!" vibe from the reaction, but I might very well be wrong.

Anarchivist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anarchivist said...

Sadly, that may be true. I mean, it wasn't the greatest film I've ever seen, but please, any random horror fan has embraced much, much worse. Much, much, much, much worse. I suspect the trailers made guys think "ooh, hot chicks and blood!" and didn't think that mixed with stuff about the emotional lives of teenage girls. I don't think it was as "fun" as people expected.

Also, I think it could be vaguely empowering for a certain kind of girl -- the message being that even if you can't save your friends, at least you can fight back -- but I think (some) boys might find it a downer...

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Which would explain why I liked the film - I like horror especially when it does things like mixing the "ooh, hot chicks and blood" with something a bit more grounded.

Of course, male teenage me would probably have liked the film's ending a lot.