“Hell is a teenage girl,” begins the voice-over as the camera telescopes upward, conveniently between Megan Fox’s legs, up to her sickly face. If this seemed like a perfectly good way to introduce a horror film, by confusing your audience into attention, your name must be Diablo Cody, the sophomoric screenwriter whose accolades for 2007’s ridiculously self-aware Juno are confounding, at best. I can’t imagine half the dialogue in this film making sense anywhere outside her head.
That’s the central failure of Jennifer’s Body, in which Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) relates to us the story of how her conceited, vapid bimbo of a friend, Jennifer Check (Ms. Fox), becomes a conceited, vapid bimbo of a flesh-eating succubus possessed by a demon without any kind of backstory.
Needy, in an orange jumpsuit to inform us she’s incarcerated, kicks around lunch ladies and gets “letters every day, mostly from perverts and Chesters.” Again, writing for an audience of one, Cody falls back on hipster talk that is often confused for clever dialogue. Wit has a requirement of being understood, but few may recognize the reference is most probably to Chester the Molester, a comic strip character created by Hustler magazine cartoon editor Dwayne B. Tinsley before the target audience for this film was born.
The two bosom buddies, part-time lipstick lesbians, make off to a local bar to watch Low Shoulder, Jennifer’s favorite band. Having observed the bandmates’ discussion of perverted fantasies concerning Jennifer, Needy confronts them only to inexplicably let Jennifer get in their van and drive off to who knows where after the bar burns down. Not stupid enough yet? It gets better.
Their town, Devil’s Kettle soon boils over with evil; we get it. Uncle! Uncle! There’s a waterfall that drains into a hole down which things disappear never to be seen again, not unlike the story—raising questions it never answers.
The possession of Jennifer is explained in a cursory flashback, but no backstory is given to the demon’s origins, defying one of the major traditions of cheesy, supernatural horror flicks. Needy’s initial late-night encounter with the newly-possessed Jennifer is probably the creepiest moment in the film, which plunges downhill thereafter. Following a few obligatory fake-outs, she appears, covered in blood, scavenging the fridge for food. Jennifer lets out a ghastly growl, and then vomits some black liquid which defies physics. The introduction of non-Newtonian fluids had great potential for a demon of alien origins, as non-Newtonian fluids tend to do, but never mind.
By the time I heard Jennifer say, “It smells like thai food. Have you guys been fucking?” I knew the random Gen-Y punchline generator was operating at full capacity. It’s not that there couldn’t be slang I’m just simply unaware of, but they’re injected non-sequiturs, drafted from the punctuation mark backwards. It reminds me of a joke I read, “I’m radish… only sort of cool.” No, wait, that was actually funnier than all but one moment in this film, when Needy and her boyfriend Chip Dove (Johnny Simmons)—named as tediously as Twilight’s Bella Swan—discuss Jennifer’s predilection toward lead singers. Chip, a drummer, mentions Phil Collins of Genesis, both a drummer and lead singer. Jennifer replies, “Who’s Phil Collins.” Even the kids in the audience laughed, proving the average teenager is smarter, and probably more articulate, than just about any character in this film.
The problem is that Jennifer has nothing to work against for us to be remotely interested in her predicament. Had she been human to begin with, we might instead have a tragic character who consumes and is conflicted about it. But neither is this the case, nor did the writer, or director Karyn Kusama (leaving behind Girlfight to make the utterly forgettable Aeon Flux and now this) amplify comedy by ratcheting up Jennifer’s bloodlust as an unapologetically narcissistic antichrist fantasy of high school queen bees everywhere.
J.K. Simmons’ dry comedic talents are underused here as the teacher consoling students in a rash of murders that oddly never seem to be investigated—another gaping flaw. Devil’s Kettle must be the poorest town in America, because there isn’t a single police officer or sheriff’s deputy to be found. No investigation into the brutal eviscerations is mounted, even as a backdrop. Ultimately, Ms. Seyfried’s understated acting prowess, first showcased as Karen Smith in 2004’s Mean Girls, rescues the film from being a total bore.
Kusama and Cody seem overwhelmed with the simple task of erecting something more than a loose framework. In the bar scene, a sparsely populated audience, still as rocks, stares blankly at the stage as if the director had no clue what they should be doing—dancing, gabbing, chugging beer… anything. Casting Josh Emerson to once again play an emotional jock, exactly as in I Love You Beth Cooper, is a thoughtless application of resources. There’s even a groan-inducing “breast stroke” joke in a pool scene.
On top of it all, if this film is inhabited by teenagers uncharacteristically hip for a bumblefuck town, why is there never a cell phone with a camera around when one is needed? Answer: Such a plausibility would bring the plot to a screeching halt. Actually, that’s untrue. We’re still dealing with supernatural phenomena. Our evil killer could theoretically have any power the writer saw fit, except hers stop short at cheap levitation tricks. Why even terrorize these hicks? Why not fly to New York and quench your bloodthirst completely unnoticed amongst the city’s never-ending supply of weirdos.
Devil’s Kettle might as well have been called Crock Pot.
Jennifer’s Body • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • Running Time: 102 Minutes • MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, bloody violence, language and brief drug use. • Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation