Ah, to be a momentarily definitive high-school horror comedy, slathered with erotic camp and pop-pastiche signifiers of female empowerment, shooting always from the hip, with a shotgun!
Strewn with brassy, sex-fixated adolescent anguish, from a teen-girl perspective, “Jennifer’s Body” was written by Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Juno,” and therefore seems more like a quip than a movie. But director Karyn Kusama, of “Girlfight,” “Aeon Flux,” and an episode of “The L Word,” has stretched it out, albeit rarely in a way that’s suspenseful or even functionally compelling, and she has managed both horror and comedy, albeit rarely as intended.
So here’s how hard it is to be BFFs with a boy-eater. It wouldn’t matter if the local roadhouse went up in flames and half your class got burned alive. She’d still ditch you and disappear into some evil-douchey emo band’s van, then show up in your kitchen in the middle of the night looking beaten half to death and puking black bile all over the floor. Next thing you know, random dudes at school are getting murdered and eviscerated, your boyfriend thinks your panic attack is an orgasm, and here she is just as glib and quippy as usual, saying things like, “You give me such a wettie,” and “Where’s it at, Monistat?” And suddenly making out with you, at length, for no real reason. And borrowing your “Evil Dead” T-shirt without even asking. I mean, you could impale this girl with the pole of a pool skimmer on prom night, and still she’s all, “You got a tampon? Thought I’d ask. You seemed like you might be pluggin.’” Some friend.
But maybe it’s only like this in Devil’s Kettle, a quaint little midwestern ‘burb known for the unusual natural landmark of a swirling sinkhole into which many things get tossed but from which nothing emerges. Devil’s Kettle is a place where posers are so desperate to get famous that they resort to ritual murder, and so dumb that they get one key part of the ritual very wrong. It’s a place where boys at risk of being eaten will need a savior, and where it’s getting harder to know the difference between a good girl, a bad girl, a mean girl and a demon girl. These distinctions do matter to young Anita Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried), who still goes by the nickname of “Needy” with her old pal Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), not least because Jennifer has become the hottest girl in school. Really, it’s the increasing improbability of their friendship that drives the plot.
“Jennifer’s Body” has a stance — the sassy posture of transgressive intentions — but no discernible point of view. Does it really critique a culturally ingrained fear of wised-up and sexually voracious young women, or just want to charge admission for the privilege of being titillated by them? Parody requires some affection, and satire some anger, but the tone here is as shrugging as the allocation of effort is strange. Quite insultingly, it’s somehow both calculated and thoughtless — trying too hard and not really trying.
Does that mean “Jennifer’s Body” is really about how the crucible of female puberty has become even more absurd and paralyzing since the crucible of male puberty became a cultural industry capable of acclaiming Megan Fox? If anything in this movie sends a real chill down the spine and then a laugh up from the belly, it’s the sense of not knowing for sure whether Fox’s complicity in it is stupid or shrewd. What she does here isn’t acting, exactly, but it is a conscious performance, developed mostly from toying with her own public image. “Jennifer’s Body” barely works, but without her it wouldn’t work at all.
When first we meet Needy, she’s kicking a correction-facility orderly across a room. When first we meet Jennifer, she’s lounging around in short shorts, pouting suggestively and picking at a scab. It’s all down the sinkhole from there.