“Hell is a teenage girl”, says young Needy (Mamma Mia! star Amanda Seyfried) who narrates her torrid tale from a prison cell. Growing up in a nowheresville town called Devil’s Kettle, nerdy Needy has been best friends with babelicious Jennifer (Megan Fox) since childhood - so close she unnerves boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) by being able to sense whenever her b.f.f. is nearby. Jennifer drags a reluctant Needy to a local dive where Goth rock poseurs “Low Shoulder” are performing. Brooding band leader Nikolai (The O.C.’s Adam Brody) zeroes in on juicy Jen, wrongly thinking she is a virgin. After the girls escape a freak fire that fries half the audience, Nikolai lures Jennifer aboard his van and on to a clandestine satanic ritual in the woods. When Needy next sees Jennifer, she has morphed into a scary-eyed succubus, hell-bent on seducing and snarfing down horny high school boys to satisfy her wanton lust.
Given the premise of Megan Fox as a sexy, demonically-possessed cheerleader could have sprung from the imagination of a teenage boy, you would think more of them would have flocked to see Jennifer’s Body in theatres. Sadly no, and this latest offering from Oscar-winning Juno (2007) scriptwriter Diablo Cody conspicuously failed to pack ’em in stateside, despite an ad campaign playing up Fox’s obvious allure, to say nothing of her lesbian lip-lock with comely co-star Amanda Seyfried. The film’s box-office failure remains dispiriting given that it has more going on beneath the surface than cookie-cutter slash-athons like Saw VI and Final Destination 3-D that somehow keep oiling the corporate horror machine.
This is not to say the movie doesn’t have its problems, mostly centred around Karyn Kusama’s anaemic handling of a handful of horror set-pieces and the nagging sense Diablo Cody isn’t doing anything the television incarnation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the movie Teeth (2007) did not do earlier. But the script bears all of Cody’s peppery insights into teenage growing pains, female relationships, high school social structure and the crass media exploitation of small town tragedy, and crackles with her playful but not excessively profane teen dialogue.
To answer the million dollar question: yes, Megan Fox ably handles a rigorous, faceted role. Indeed the powerhouse performances from Fox and Amanda Seyfried are easily the best things about Jennifer’s Body which plays like an extended metaphor for the friendship between two seemingly mismatched teenage girls, equally victimised in their own way. “I’ll never tell on you”, is the childhood promise that comes back to haunt Needy and her first encounter with the newly-possessed Jennifer, caked in blood and grinning devilishly, carries that same charge of poetic nausea found in Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl (1982). Later Kusama underlines their bond, cross-cutting between Needy’s first sexual experience and Jennifer’s demonic sex-killing of naïve Goth Colin (Kyle Gallner). Jennifer and Needy both loathe and love each other and demonic possession doesn’t so much alter their relationship as draw tensions to the surface.
Criticisms have been levelled that Jennifer’s victims aren’t buff high school bullies, just regular guys, but this rather misses the point. Jennifer behaves like a predatory male, taking advantage of their psychological and emotional weaknesses. Besides it’s more disturbing to see decent guys getting gobbled up messily than the guilt-free sight of cartoonish jocks becoming monster chow. Jennifer’s boy-crazy seduce-and-kill spree gains such notoriety, in a neat reversal of a slasher movie cliché, mothers start handing out pepper spray to their teenage sons.
Those more accustomed to the rollercoaster pacing of the slasher genre may find this limp, but the film’s balancing act between eerie imagery, queasy laughs and twisted sexual horror will find favour with fans of Euro-horror. A number of Cody’s sly laughs tickle the funny bone, especially Nikolai’s ridiculous pre-sacrificial speech (“Do you know how hard it is for a band to make it big these days? Unless you’re on Letterman or some retarded soundtrack, Satan is the only way!”) and both Jennifer’s climactic mid-air tussle with Needy and the end credits revenge rampage captured on videophone are inspired and well-handled by Kusama. And I am not going to lie: Fox and Seyfried’s bedroom fumble pushes all the right buttons.