RJ Bayley takes the stand to defend Jennifer’s Body…
I never actually saw writer Diablo Cody’s (this is one of the occasions when the film is clearly much more the writer’s than the director’s) Jennifer’s Body when it was released way back in 2009. This was partially due to me travelling through India or South Africa or somewhere, I can’t really remember, but I was travelling long term at the time.
The other reason was because I’d heard it was pretty rubbish. I wasn’t a huge horror fan back then. I liked horror, but not to the same extent I do now. So with the tide of mediocre to poor reviews, the only ones I was aware of, this was not going to get me into a cinema.
As I grew more and more towards the horror side of the cinematic spectrum my apathy towards Jennifer’s Body mutated into deliberate and disdainful avoidance. How could a horror film that featured that girl from those generally horrendous Transformers movies possibly be in a good horror movie? To me Jennifer’s Body was clearly the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen of horror flicks, and I didn’t even need to see it to be certain. Furthermore, it was plainly obvious from the advertising that Megan Fox would be playing the ‘super sexy [and that’s the only character trait]’ role I’d seen in the Transformers franchise. A role which was mind-breakingly boring due to such a 2 dimensional character taking up so much time. And in Transformers there were enormous robots or stereotypical soldiers or pre-insanity Shia LaBeouf to take screen time away from her. This however was all Megan Fox, with the perennially uncompelling Amanda Seyfried thrown in for credibility.
So how did such disregard and avoidance lead me to see Jennifer’s Body? I write weekly reviews for another horror website and, having not been in receipt of any films and the being internet down, and having been given the week’s theme of “seductive monsters” I was left with one option: head to the HMV closing down sale at Fort Kinaird retail park and see what fit the bill.
After asking a member of staff for any films that would match the ‘seductive monsters’ criteria, but not vampires, which I’d recently covered quite a lot, the reply was “I don’t know” and then telepathically “because HMV don’t care about who they employ and I am a moron.” So as I searched through dozens of straight-to-DVD titles which meant nothing to me and did not scream “seductive monsters”, I came across Jennifer’s Body. After several more scans and reading more film blurbs than I really should have, it seemed Jennifer’s Body was the only show in that shambolic shop that fit the bill. It was also, crucially, cheap.
Yet somehow, when the DVD was in and the film was playing, I immediately found myself enjoying it. The set-up of the film’s fictional small American town, Devil’s Kettle, telegraphed a film that knows what it’s doing. I’m a sucker for a strong sense of place in a film, and Devil’s Kettle was relatable yet quintessentially American. It’s the set up of the water sinkhole that goes somewhere no one knows. It cleverly brings to mind all those small, otherwise rubbish, little places that survive on one unique geological formation, like Cheddar Gorge, or Wookey Hole, or other places named after famous Star Wars anuses. It also brings to mind that sense of old world superstition that’s so often missing from many of these modern American settings. It’s a strong sense of location that is kept all the way through the film, with the opening disaster of a bar burning down rocking the whole community and irrevocably re-shaping it. As time goes on it’s shown that the entire town is centered around this one catastrophe and it’s aftermath.
Alongside the timespan of the film showing the rebirth of a new, morbid town, we get to see how the town fits into wider America, and America’s attention being turned towards Devil’s Kettle as a string of tragedies occur. There’s a lot of imagery of candlelit vigils and things like that which are immediately recognisable. Very well observed is America becoming in Devil’s Kettle as its “tragedy boner”.
It’s phrases like “tragedy boner” which demonstrate another remarkably strong suit, and why this is writer Diablo Cody’s film more than the director’s. Cody demonstrated some wonderful dialogue with her more identifiable film Juno. Yes, just as in Juno, no school kids really talk like those portrayed in Jennifer’s Body. But you know what? No school kids look like Megan Fox. And there’s no such things as Succubi or Hell, so get over it.
The dialogue is filled with wonderful turns of phrase, bone dry humour and plenty of the good type of snark.
It baffles me how the terminology and wit of the film didn’t make it the Clueless of it’s generation with terms like “lesbi-gay”, “freak-tarded” and the delightfully crude “wetty”.
The casual obscenities fly back and forth with a startling amount of creativity behind them. Lines like:
“I just got Aquamarine on DVD. It’s about a girl who’s, like, half sushi. She must’ve had sex with a blowhole or something.”
“It smells like Thai food in here. Have you guys been fucking?”
The dialogue is also wonderfully knowing, right off the bat referencing that there’s no hope for boy bands these days “if you don’t get on Letterman or some retarded soundtrack”. And of course my favourite back and forth from the film between Seyfried’s character Needy and her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons):
“She can fly?”
“She’s just hovering, it’s not that impressive.”
Those knowing references to other horror films are very welcome here. They’re the kind that let you know the filmmakers love horror movies. The film is incredibly cine-literate, throwing in several overt references to The Evil Dead, from posters on the wall, to Needy’s PJs leading to an actual namecheck for the film, to the gloriously splatter-tastic sludge vomiting scenes. It’s not just Raimi’s masterpiece that gets shown love however, as the film seems almost entirely composed of homages to slasher, J-horror and classic ghost and zombie films.
All the influences mashed together lead to a unique fusion of styles; especially so as they are all played out through the medium of stylized teenage high school girls.
The biggest revelation however was Megan Fox herself. I don’t know how it happened but there she, was being a genuinely good actress. I’m sure a lot of people will contend that being the bratty, spoilt bitch who is used to being the prettiest one in the group isn’t that much of a stretch for her. However there is no faking good comic time. She’s genuinely funny and actually out-acts Seyfried. When it’s time to turn the monster on she’s convincing here too, becoming an incredibly bitchy demon figure, a thoroughly enjoyable novelty.
I became aware that I wasn’t just really liking Jennifer’s Body because I went into it with low expectations; indeed that probably worked against it as I was all too ready to dislike it. I was actually liking the movie because the movie is good.
In a way Jennifer’s Body really taught me to go into films with a fully open mind, not to prejudge anything that came my way, and to give any film a chance despite outside forces, including its own marketing, trying to say otherwise.
But perhaps most of all, it taught me that Megan Fox can be a really good actress.
Images from IMDb