Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Death of a Cheerleader


It’s a rare Oscar winner that would follow and Academy awarded screenplay with a blood-soaked horror movie set in high school, but the prom queen of 2008’s Sundance did just that with Jennifer’s Body. Written by Juno scribe Diablo Cody and directed by Girlfight’s Karyn Kasuma, this bouncy pseudo horror has a refreshingly high dose of estrogen behind its production. 

That doesn't make it a particularly good (certainly not well directed) film, but despite the late-nite cable title, retro 80s poster art dying to make messy backseat love to a VHS (above, and I actually really dig it), and the abundance of near-nude Megan Fox skin, it's important to note that Jennifer's Body does try a few new things in marrying snappy high school humor with  a throwback horror style. 

Quick Plot: Despite their differences, mousey Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and hot cadet squad captain Jennifer (Megan Fox) remain lifelong BFFs, as proven by their matching heart necklaces. While Needy would prefer a quiet night in with her pet ferret or sweet boyfriend (you know he’s a catch because he went to Super Target to buy the spiral textured condoms so “it feels good for girls”), she agrees to accompany Jennifer to the local bar to see the hot new band from “the city” (which, from Long Island to the Alaska, is like, so the way suburban kids describe the nearest metropolis). Jennifer flirts her way into the sights of the lead singer (a hilarious Adam Brody) who in turn consults his drummer about the possible sexual history/non-history of the underage goupie-to-be. Offended, Needy dishonestly defends her friend’s honor before a fatal fire destroys the bar and makes extra crispy meat of most of its inhabitants. A shocked Jennifer ends up in the back of the band’s van, only to later show up in Needy’s kitchen with an appetite for Boston Market and an erupting blackened bloody wound in her chest. 

The next day, students and faculty mourn the town’s tragedy while Jennifer acts like a bitchy hot girl who craves the flesh of teenaged boys. And since she is cadet squad captain, she totally gets it. (Side note: once online for a roller coaster at Great Adventure, I overheard this pearly gem from a young blonde on a school trip: "I'm a cheerleader. That means I can do whatever the hell I want." Jennifer's Body comes extremely close to using this exact line).

Like a lot of current horror, Jennifer’s Body seemed to take some fan backlash when its very concept was announced. Diablo Cody’s style is pretty polarizing, and early trailers made the film look like 90 minutes of Fox teasing audiences with near nudity and sapphic innuendo. While the film is no masterpiece or milestone in the horror genre, it is an energetically enjoyable flick ripe for a Sunday afternoon viewing, sort of like a younger Drag Me To Hell with a little more Whedonesque puns tossed in. Amanda Seyfried proves that whether she’s slaying demons or singing to ABBA, she’s an incredibly likable and interesting onscreen presence (even if her “geek” look of flat hair and thick glasses is less believable than Rachael Lee Cook’s makeover in She’s All That). Megan Fox finds the right beats to prove herself more than capable of having fun with the kind of role she was born to play. Cody’s script is far less stylized than the every-line’s-a-pop-culture-quip of Juno, although a few dialogue duds land here and there. Still, the script is generally good fun without being forced.

But is it a good horror movie? Well, not in the scary sense, but that doesn’t mean Jennifer’s Body doesn’t fit its genre. This doesn’t come near the brilliance of something like Scream (which combined self-aware teenagedom with actual suspense in a way that’s hard to rival) but there’s a lot to enjoy, from the complex yet believable relationship between two mismatched best friends to the gleefully macabre humor around the world’s most satanically ambitious indie band since Black Roses. As far as actual fear factor goes, Jennifer’s Body is far more concerned with keeping its audience chuckling than inspiring nightmares, but those chuckles are sometimes quite nasty (and I mean that in the nicest way). It won't give you nightmares, but it will make you smile.
High Points
Neither gets much to do, but it’s still a treat to see Amy Sedaris and J.K. Simmons turning in shining little performances, plus an extra special cameo by one very genre friendly actor in the final scene

The actual sacrifice scene is filled with maniacally black humor 
Both Jennifer and Needy’s choice in promwear is gloriously horrendous. Whether this was an homage to the film’s 80s spirit or a comment on the misguided fashion sense of small town middle America, I like it

Low Points
Despite all the the cheer for the R-Rating, there’s nothing overwhelming or envelope pushing regarding the sex or violence

For all its buildup to the two climaxes, the finale(s) feel underwhelming and rushed. While we can laugh along with Jennifer and are certainly pulling for Seyfried's Needy, director Kasuma does not seem to have any control in building actual cinematic suspense
Lessons Learned
Small towns have bars; cool cities have clubs

Never chide a violent prison inmate for her dietary choices
Murderers of cheerleaders get a lot of fan mail

High school sex smells like Thai food
Bands that aspire to be Maroon 5 are never up to any good

See/Skip/Sneak In
I had a great time watching this movie, and only part of that came from the two 22 ounce glasses of pumpkin beer consumed one hour before showtime. That being said, there is definitely a segment of theatrical audiences--possibly a lot that are male--that will naturally have an aversion to mixing Mean Girls with demonic possession in a manner that tries a little too hard to wear its own cred in a too obvious (and acknowledged) placement of an Evil Dead t-shirt. This isn't the film anyone has been sacrificing puppies to see on the big screen, but it's a fun enough way to spend 90 minutes and a few months from now when it hits DVD, I can actually see some of the laughs landing more effectively. The fact that it seemed to bomb with theatrical audiences is something of a bummer; this isn't a new classic, but it's certainly more deserving of attention than something as trite and uninspired as Friday the 13th Part 12. 

Sigh. It always comes back to that for me, doesn't it.


  1. We are poster twins! I definitely think this was the stronger of the 2 choices.

    I think we are on the same page with this movie. I'm glad you pointed out the more comedic aspects. The Maroon 5 things made me giggle as did the Thai food comment. I found a lot of Jennifer's dialogue amusing.

    This was definitely a very pleasant surprise!

  2. This poster is so perfect to me! It has such a VHS feel.

    If you liked the dialogue, you *may want to check out Juno. Once you get past the overly artificial opening scene and the characters are allowed to actually talk, it's quite enjoyable. People have such issues with Diablo Cody but I really do think that's only because she had such juggernaut success. She's not the second coming of Quentin Tarantino, but she has a fun sense about her writing.

    By far, my favorite parts involved the band. I've still been singing "Through the Trees" all day.

  3. I hit a line in Battle Royale that started "Through the trees" and immediately had the song stuck in my head. I'm considering downloading the soundtrack for fun.