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Feature


Unlikely best friends Anita ‘Needy’ Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) attend a rock show at a local bar, staring an up and coming indie-rock group called Low Shoulder. A few minutes into the first song a mysterious fire breaks out, and the bar is burned to the ground. Low Shoulder approaches the friends, who are in shock, and effectively kidnap Jennifer in spite of Needy’s protests. That night Needy is left home alone, and a beaten and bloody Jennifer breaks in to eat food from her fridge, and vomit black goo onto the floor. But the next day Jennifer acts as if nothing has happened, and looks more radiant than ever. Something has changed, and the small town high school will never be the same.

Jennifer's Body
The fairer sex has held a strong presence in the best horror/thriller films since the beginning of medium. The naysayers will say that the genres have treated women unfairly, as victims of titillating abuse, and in a certain respect they have a point. A beautiful woman in peril is always an easy way to excite an audience, and killing her graphically is a sure fire road to shock. As an exploitation fan I find it hard to be genuinely offended by these facts, and point to the long history of strong heroines and villainesses found in the genre’s most celebrated entries, from Tod Browning’s Freaks, Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, to DePalma’s Carrie, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and Carpenter’s Halloween. This isn’t even to mention the presence of women throughout Hitchcock and George A Romero’s oeuvres. The problem is, however, that the vast majority of these films have been made by men (in touch with femininity, but men nonetheless).

The number of women screenwriters and directors contributing significantly to popular genre films can almost be counted on one hand, including Kathryn Bigelow ( Near Dark, Blue Steel), Mary Lambert ( Pet Semetary 1 and 2), Antonia Bird ( Ravenous), and Rachel Talalay ( Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Ghost in the Machine, and a producer on other Nightmare on Elm Street films). There are a few female writer/director sets, like Rita Mae Brown and Amy Holden Jones ( Slumber Party Massacre), and the extra special dream team of Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron, who took the feminist movement’s most reviled novel, American Psycho, and tuned it into a riotously funny indictment of 1980s Yuppie lifestyles. Now we can add screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama to that short list, and Jennifer’s Body to that tiny list of female produced horror films, and it’s interesting to note that unlike the vast majority of female produced horror, Jennifer’s Body comes at the genre from a decidedly female point of view.

Jennifer's Body
The film, which was a relative box office disappointment, was immediately notable to the masses for two reasons—it teased the possibility of ‘it girl’ Megan Fox nude, and it was Diablo Cody’s follow-up to her Oscar winning Juno screenplay. The first notable element turned out to be a total tease, even in this unrated version, but the second element is interesting enough to likely develop the film a bit of a life on video. Stylistically speaking Jennifer’s Body is a pretty logical follow-up to Juno. Cody’s dialogue remains thick with pop-culture reference, and in my opinion pretty exhausting, but for the most part the solid cast sells this stuff hard enough that I probably only exhaled in exasperation probably five or six times. Beyond the dialogue, which defines the writer enough that I support her continued effort in crafting it even if it raises my hackles, the plotting is looser than that of Juno, and this is a good thing. The story eventually devolves into predictable clichés, but the first act unfolds with more than a few surprises, and the bookends are pitch-perfect hipster horror set-ups. It’s not quite great, or even particularly good, but it’s a decent paving on the way to somewhere interesting.

Jennifer's Body
It’s easy to compare Jennifer’s Body to the Twilight series, and perhaps this is the most apt comparison in terms of modern film, as both films feature a decidedly feminine take on horror standbys and icky high school politics. In this regard Jennifer’s Body is an appreciated antidote, with its overt sexuality and graphic violence, but both films pale in comparison to the best mix of elements on record, John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps, written by one Karen Walton. Ginger Snaps features a more honest portrayal of female adolescence, a less predictable plot, and the more creative horror mythology. Whereas Twilight’s problems are wide and varying, but I believe Jennifer’s Body’s biggest problems could be solved by moving attention away from the High School, which is simply far too familiar a landscape in American film. Cody risks being pigeon holed very early in her career if she doesn’t leave High School behind soon. Both her and director Kusama clearly know their comedic horror—they hit the right beats, swipe the right gags, and aren’t pulling any punches—so hopefully the genre won’t be blamed for the film’s box office underachievement, and the team will give it all a second shot outside of the blocky boring confines of High School. Besides the genuine fun of the film’s campier and bloody horror, the filmmakers perfectly spoof the recent power-pop musical phenomenon, and the Midwestern mindset, the latter item I wouldn’t mind if Cody continued exploring in future releases.

If there’s one thing the ladies and their production cohorts have done perfectly it has to be casting. I have positively nothing bad to say about this cast, and that, much to my surprise, includes Megan Fox, who isn’t given much of a challenge, but definitely manages to exude the appropriate measure of tongue in cheek comedy. I suppose other actresses could do the same, but Fox’s tabloid life and previously awful performances actually fuel the character’s more campy aspects. Amanda Seyfried is, of course, the star of the whole thing, and brings real pathos to what could’ve been a very one dimensional character in lesser hands. The masterstroke is the supporting cast, which is positively teeming with some of the best character actors in the business including  J. K. Simmons, Kyle Gallner, Amy Sedaris, Cynthia Stevenson, and even Lance Henriksen.

Jennifer's Body

Video


Kusama shoots Jennifer’s Body to look a little rough around the edges, so this 1080p transfer isn’t picture perfect, but there’s a gorgeous garish quality to the whole film that would likely be lost in standard definition. The smoky, under-lit, and bawdily coloured barroom scene shades the bulk of the film. The look is high contrast without being particularly hard-edged, so the blacks are ultra-dark, the skin tones are largely whitened, and the colours are ultra-pure. There’s so much going on so far as punch in the colour scheme it’s hard to point out any specific pops, though the scene where Jennifer wonders the greyed and depressive halls of the school wearing a pink outfit is a pretty good example. Some of the darker indoor scenes feature some pretty massive grain and colour mixing against the harsher whites, but again, this is just another logical extension of the film’s slightly rough look. Details are a big plus too, from picture perfect bits of background set design, to the super specificity of wardrobe, and those perfect little imperfections in Fox’s face when she starts to fall apart. The wide shots of nature are probably the cleanest moments, and definitely the richest in detail, clearly on par with those Discovery Channel nature docs. Occasionally the deep blacks bleed out a little bit and ruin the sharpness a hair, but yet again, this is in-keeping stylistically.

Audio


Jennifer’s Body earns the disc’s DTS-HD 5.1 track through a mix of musical aggression and stylized horror ambience. The barroom fire scene is an early example of the soundtrack’s tendency to pull the unneeded sound off the track, while upping the volume of the more necessary elements. The juxtaposed sex scenes at the centre of the film are another good example, where the simplicity of Needy’s loving sex is aurally put up against the spooky violence of Jennifer’s surround sound attack. The scenes where Jennifer does damage to boys are the liveliest concerning directional effects, and general stylization, and they often incur the wrath of the occasional heavy metal score. It’s not all power chords and double basses though, there are plenty of super-poppy tunes included in the mix, cover a large swath of styles, including ‘70s rock, ‘80s pop, and recent power-pop crap (used effectively) like Panic at the Disco. All this stuff is mostly stereo spread, but really benefits from the added LFE support. In terms of 5.1 channel support, the scene where the fictional band ‘Low Shoulder’ plays the film’s goofy theme song live exacts the general realism of hearing music like this in real life.

Jennifer's Body

Extras


This disc comes front loaded with two audio commentaries. The first track features screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama, and this is only available on the theatrical cut, while the other features Kusama solo. I settled in, expecting the girls to blow my mind with behind the scenes stories, and unrelated anecdotes, but was instead greeted with hesitant blubs about the on-screen action, and a whole lot of blank space. Things pick up eventually, with Kusama finding something to point out that leads to a bit of extra chatting, but overall I was pretty disappointed. The best bits are the moments where someone discusses the subtext of the situation, or where someone mentions a specific homage. The second track, which is available for the longer cut, is a little more scene specific. A little bloody clapper appears when Kusama has something to say. This focuses things a little more, and is a good way to mark the differences between the cuts.

Next up are six deleted/extended scenes (14:00, HD). Mostly these are scenes of the extended variety, and wouldn’t have added anything to the plot. The director’s cut is long enough as is, though I suppose the brief Carrie shower homage is kind of fun (you saw a few of these shots in the trailer). Really big fans might enjoy the extended third act stuff. This is supported by what is called a ‘gag reel’, but is mostly a series of random behind the scenes things (05:00, SD).

Jennifer's Body
‘Jennifer’s Body: The Dead Pool’ (14:00, HD) is a look at the filming of the big poolside showdown, and a general look at the film in general. This is an EPK, through and true, but it has a more informative edge than many of these ‘see out film’ trailer elongations. The make-up design concept art is especially interesting, as is the general on-set tone, which threatens to make me want to really like Megan Fox. This is followed by four video diaries (Megan Fox and Johnny Simmons, Amanda Seyfried, Diablo Cody, and Dan Dubiecki, (12:50, HD). Things end with ‘Megan Fox is Hot’ (01:00, HD), a montage of the actress’s more saucy moments, ‘Megan Fox’s PSA’ (00:40, SD), ‘Fox Movie Channel Life After Film School with Diablo Cody’ (26:30), and a series of trailers.

Jennifer's Body

Overall


Jennifer’s Body isn’t a great film, but it’s one of the most purely feminine horror films I’ve seen in a long time. Though it’s pretty clearly bested by the likes of the similar Ginger Snaps, it actually manages to be more entertaining than some of its inspirations, specifically Joel Schumacher’s vastly overrated The Lost Boys. I certainly hope the film finds a decent cult following on Blu-ray and DVD, because it’s worth a second look (I liked it more the second time, watching it with the relatively disappointing commentary tracks), and I’d like to see Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama tackling more horror in the future. If you saw it in theatres give the director’s cut a shot. It really isn’t any gorier or sexier, but it’s a little fuller. This disc looks and sounds a-okay, and the extras are overall better than expected.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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