When my friend and I arrived at the Winchester 23 to see “Jennifer’s Body” last week, the parking lot was empty. We thought were at the Century 24 down the street, where bad movies open to die an unwatched death. A few more people arrived after we settled down inside the theater, including a couple who talked during the moving because they were either drunk or stupid (hard to tell in the dark). As the Shepherd Derrial Book says in the TV series, “Firefly,” there’s a special level in Hell that’s reserved for child molesters and people who talked in movie theaters. Like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” (cue music), we found ourselves in that special level.
I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch this movie. I read that Diablo Cody (who wrote “Juno”) was calling this the “anti-Juno” movie, where the story focused on the bad girl doing bad things rather than the good girl doing good things. Being able to deconstruct your own work, doing a reverse transformation, and adding a twist are the hallmarks of a good writer. Because I was in the middle of writing on my own horror short story about teenagers and a shopping cart possessed by a senior citizen, I found myself deconstructing “Jennifer’s Body” to figure out what works and what fails in this particular horror tale.
The story begins and ends with a Needy (Amanda Seyfried) being in a women prison facility for murdering her best friend forever, Jennifer (Megan Fox), narrating how she ended up there and being able to kick a nurse across the room by explaining what happened before. I don’t like this form of storytelling. I prefer that a story be told straight through. Other than serving as bookends for the tale being told, I don’t see why this movie couldn’t be told straight through.
The first thing we find out is the location: Devil’s Kettle. A town named after a waterfall of the same name, where a part of the waterfall spills into a hole that no one knows where it goes. Turns out that Devil’s Kettle Falls is a real waterfall in Minnesota except the movie version looks like a bathroom sink made out of marble surrounded by a whirlpool of water. The town appears to be fictional. The high school mascot is a red devil (obviously), and where else would you have a virginal sacrifice to Satan (that comes later).
Since Needy is a blond and Jennifer is a brunette, we got the classical Betty and Veronica archetype of the blond being the good girl and the brunette being the bad girl. I struggled to like Needy (way too nerdy) and took an instant dislike to Jennifer (looking for trouble). This probably has more to do with Archie proposing marriage to Veronica rather than Betty, which makes Archie an idiot in my book. (I have nothing against brunettes; I just like good girls more than bad girls.) Jennifer drags Needy away from her innocent boyfriend (who complains about his girlfriend being kidnapped all the time) to go to a roadside bar to meet a rock band that plays some very U2-ish music. Like any good horror story, people die if they have drugs, premarital sex, and/or liberal politics.
Since the band leader had identified Jennifer as a virgin (taking Needy’s word when she overhears them talking), a mysterious fire breaks out that kills most of the people inside the bar, including high school students and a teacher, and Jennifer is kidnapped while Needy watches helplessly from the roadside. Jennifer is sacrificed as a virginal offering at the waterfall to have Satan’s grant the band’s request to be rich and famous, and the knife tossed into the pool below the waterfall but it doesn’t go into the hole. The request is granted but not as expected because the instructions downloaded from the Internet weren’t that explicit. Because Jennifer wasn’t a virgin, a demon took possession of her body with a craving for boy flesh.
When the boys start showing up dead and eaten a month after the bar fire, Needy goes to the school library to pull out a book of demonology to discover what’s going with Jennifer. What school libraries in post-Reagan America still carry books on demonology, witchcraft and liberalism? Mine didn’t. The public library did. (If you want to spook out a librarian today, ask for a book on building nuclear weapons.) Only the school libraries in “Carrie” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” would stock books on those topics.
I enjoyed how one student explains that if something appears on Wikipedia, it must be true. Or how Needy explains to her boyfriend how real evil is different from high school evil. I’m quite certain that both of these lines appeared in one form or another in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and the movie itself reminds of an extended conflict between Buffy (good girl) and Faith (bad girl) that also played out against the Betty and Veronica archetype.
There are two pairs of counterpoint scenes involving beds that I enjoyed and detested.
The most publicized scene was the extended lesbian kiss that establishes a psychic connection between Needy and Jennifer in Needy’s bed that eventually leads to the counterpoint scene where they fight to the death in Jennifer’s bed. I don’t know if the underlying message should be that teenaged girls spend an awful lot of time in each other’s bed. A good horror story requires counterpoint scenes (or references) that defines the characters and foreshadow the conflict. My own horror short story that I finished writing today had a half-dozen references.
The other counterpoint scenes happens at the same when Jennifer takes down the goth boy (their shadows cast against the wall when the blood and guts are tossed) and Needy loses her virginity to her boyfriend (an almost top-down camera view). This is where the psychic link between the two girls comes into full play. While Needy losing her virginity wasn’t overly explicit, it comes across to me as being pornographic. Porn is almost always the kiss of death in a horror story. When used in moderation, restraint, and well integrated into the story, sex can be a powerful force. When the boyfriend asks if he’s “too big,” the scene went over the top for me. If I had a popcorn container, I might’ve hurled.
The best part of the movie is where Needy escapes from prison through the use of the demonic powers she inherited from a bite while fighting Jennifer, locates the knife used to sacrifice Jennifer’s body in a gully off the river, and hitch hikes with an older man (J.K. Simmons, a.k.a. Juno’s father, making a cameo appearance) to track down the rock and roll band. While the end credits are rolling, a series of Beatles-like still pictures shows the band getting out of the limo, entering the hotel, checking out the hotel room, and doing stupid things. A security camera shows a lone girl wearing a hoodie entering and leaving the corridor before a mob of girls stampede through to see the band. Then girls then screams in horror. A series of crime scene still photos shows how the band members were sliced, diced and filleted. A priceless revenge.
As for Megan Fox’s body, not much is shown. What is shown reveals her to be a scrawny little thing, and I don’t find seeing ribs on a woman to be that sexy. Without the CGI special effects from “Transformers,” she isn’t that hot. This is supposed to be her movie debut away from the “Transformers” franchise, her bad girl character seems to fall flat. Maybe she would do will to play Betty rather than Veronica in future movies.