TIFF Review: Jennifer's Body

Jennifer's Body (2009, directed by Karyn Kusama)

Tales of teen demonic possession are nothing new in the horror movie world. It's too perfect a fit as a metaphor, too short a jump from some frumpy matron describing rampaging hormones and youthful rebellion with the phrase "They've got the devil in them!" to actually, y'know, putting the devil in them, for the idea to remain in storage for long.

Most of the time though, the idea is handled with full Catholic seriousness. For every campy Idle Hands there's a handful of Exorcists and Emily Roses trying to make the concept seem real. What very few of them ever do, though, is put the girls in a position of power. Teen girls in demonic possession flicks are always either the afflicted victim, or the target. They're never in control.

Never, that is, until Jennifer's Body.

Obligatory plot description: School uberhottie Jennifer and her slightly dorky BFF Needy go to a local dive to see a local crappy emo band because Jennifer has the hots for the lead singer. The band does what rock bands have done since the Dave Clark Five originated the practice, namely offer up her virgin soul in sacrifice to Satan in exchange for a successful career. Unfortunately Jennifer wasn't exactly a virgin (as she says, "Not even a back-door virgin") so instead of staying dead she comes back as the vessel for a demon who takes great delight in eating the flesh of horny high school boys. Hijinx, and corpses, ensue, as Needy tries desperately to figure out what's going on and to try and stop her boyfriend Chip from becoming Jennifer-Chow.

Despite Diablo Cody's presence behind the pen... err, typewriter... err, XPS 16 with Final Draft 8 installed, I didn't have especially high hopes for this one. I mean let's be honest, given her track record so far at picking quality material it's hard to get your hopes up for any Megan Fox movie (what's been her best film to date, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen?) But Jennifer's Body not only made it clear that not only is Fox capable of recognizing a good script when she reads one, it also shows that she's capable of doing something with one. Her Jennifer is deliciously, obliviously bitchy even before she gets possessed, and she dives into her role as a literal hellcat with great glee.

It's Amanda Seyfried as Needy who really owns this movie though. They don't go full Now Voyager on her, but the makeup and wardrobe folk do an amazing job of hiding her Bette Davis eyes behind a veneer of geekiness (at least until the inevitable transformation at the prom) and she does a fantastic job of playing a girl who'd been content living in the shadow of her more glamorous friend until circumstances forced her to find her own strength and her own place in the spotlight.

The obvious comparison here, given the subject matter, is to Joss Whedon's Buffyverse and Jennifer's Body more than holds its own. Cody's dialogue doesn't have the pop culture references cranked up to 11 the way Whedon's does, but it's just as quick and smart, and she knows how to give even small supporting characters their moment in the sun. Cody also does a fine job providing a solid foundation for her paranormal craziness. What really puts the script, and the movie, over the top though is its completely frank treatment of teen sex. The girls aren't treated as prudes or sluts (well, OK, Jennifer kinda is a slut), and sex isn't an unforgivable sin that leads to inevitable doom. It's simply a fact in their lives -- at times a silly, awkward one, but not something that is a Big Deal. Demonic possession, now that's a Big Deal. Teh buttsecks? Not so much.

If I've got one little complaint about Jennifer's Body as a horror film it's that it's not especially scary and that the gore could have been a little bit gorier (Kusama tends not to show Jennifer's kills but merely their aftermath), but on the other hand there's an absurdly hot make-out scene between Fox and Seyfried, so given a choice between one or the other I'd have to say Kusama made the right call.

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