It’s been a lively time for teen flicks in the past few years, from the multiplex-gobbling Twilight to the wry Superbad, and films like Juno and Adventureland have shown that there’s plenty of reasons for those of us who don’t look like members of the Skins cast to tuck in too. Boasting a script from much-feted scribbler Diablo Cody, on the back of her Oscar win for Juno, this vinegary horror is shaped up to be Twilight’s snarkier evil twin.
After driving off into the night with a bunch of occult-dabbling emo rockers, following a suspicious fire at a bar that kills a number of local kids, high school queen bee Jennifer’s behaviour takes a mysterious turn for the worse, as bloodlust and intestine excavation is curiously added to her CV - much to the concern of long-term pal Needy.
As the body count slowly rises, so do Needy’s fears for her buddy, as she slowly suspects that some demonic shenanigans are afoot. With the prom fast approaching, Needy needs to take matters into her own hands to prevent the ball becoming an entrails buffet.
Jennifer’s Body could easily have been a predictable, mainstream slasher, but it merrily strives to be smarter than that. The basic idea is fine enough - take the classic hormonal teen bitch template and blow it up to a logical metaphorical conclusion - the change moody teenagers go through viewed as a form of possession; that’s fine, Ginger Snaps neatly pulled off summat similar with its time of the month/werewolf analogy.
Then you can factor in the catty vibe of films like Mean Girls and Clueless, which Cody has a decent stab at - the script is peppered with teen-speak snipes. Overall, there was ample fun to have been had, but there’s a sense that it doesn’t quite hit the right spots. Jennifer’s Body is keen to be smart-arse, but seems to struggle to get beyond the posturing; the script seems content to rest on neat turns of phrase that don’t add up to anything substantial, while Needy and boyfriend Chip drag the mental age down, with their simpering fecklessness.
Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell similarly used a sappy teen in the protagonist role, but this has none of the vitality that was present in that. Likewise, Raimi showed that a 15 certificate is no barrier for a decent, lively horror, a lesson Jennifer’s Body could have taken heed from, as much of the horror lacks any of the necessary visceral flourish. It could have been different if the crew had fun with the material - even the usually reliable JK Simmons, the oddball stalwart of recent Coens films, seems to find it hard to chomp his way through proceedings.
But you do have to give Megan Fox some degree of begrudging acknowledgement as the titular neck-scoffing cheerleader. Despite being the tasty morsel on the end of the film’s red-blooded-bloke-baiting fishing rod, she actually does a bang-up job - granted the role she’s given is a bit of an open goal, but she’s the right amount of sassy and bitchy, delivers an amply playful turn and is given far more scope to enjoy herself and put in a decent acting shift than she was in Transformers. It’s no award-winning performance, but is sound casting, and next to Amanda Seyfried’s Needy, she comes over pretty well.
While by no means a wasteful use of man's thousands of years of human experience, knowledge and understanding, Jennifer’s Body just feels like it fell short of its potential. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not punchy enough to be a true horror, it constantly fails to find its mark. There are some neat touches in the script and it’s well shot, Fox fetishists will be pleased to hear, but it feels like an IKEA flatpack that frustratingly has those few screws missing that mean it never gets quite finished off adequately.
Part of me feels that time will be kind to it and it may grow minor cult status - but places like Blockbuster kick you out at 10pm, and it probably won’t get there in that time.
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, JK Simmons
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Extras: deleted scenes, digital copy