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Sunday, 28 February 2010

DVD Of The Week: Jennifer's Body (2009)

Remember that visceral feel of tingly excitement you felt the first time you watched the original Nightmare on Elm Street or Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II?

Prepare to feel it again (although maybe not for quite so long).

Jennifer's Body isn't quite in those leagues but is still a meaty, thrilling, monster-stalking-teens horror flick... that just happens to star two of the hottest babes in Hollywood: Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried.

The story opens with Needy (Seyfriend) in a mental institution then flashes back to explain how she got there.

Needy and Jennifer (Fox) are BFFs, friends since childhood, in a small town called Devil's Kettle - named for a nearby waterfall and its freaky sinkhole (a wonderful detail that makes for a great red herring).

Head cheerleader Jennifer is a typical gorgeous, ditzy teen, always thinking about boys, while Needy is a more normal, average, homely girl with a pleasant boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons) - until the girls go to the community's one, out-of-town, bar to see a visiting big city band play.

A fire breaks out at the dive, killing several people, and in the confusion Jennifer leaves with the band... only to show up hours later at Needy's home, looking like death... and spewing up disgusting, tarry bile over the lino.

Jennifer is no longer the girl that Needy grew up with, but a flesh-eating demon (possibly a succubus) after the band tried to sacrifice her to Satan to ensure they had a successful career. Unfortunately the ceremony required a virgin and that's one thing Jennifer wasn't!

And to maintain her good looks, Jennifer now needs to feed...

Writer Diablo Cody clearly has an ear for the Joss Whedonesque teen banter and there's a lot of a very dark humour at work here that, with the overall Buffy The Vampire Slayer vibe of the piece, made it compelling viewing in my book.

About two-thirds the way through, my sixth sense started trying to tell me that there was "something else" going on here and while some of the clues suggested a Fight Club-style twist might be on the cards; ultimately I was quite relieved to be proved wrong.

What seems odd though is there are several rather hurried segues between scenes that, upon further exploration of the DVD, are covered in the "deleted scenes" (particularly from Chip and Needy's tussle with Jennifer in the abandoned swimming pool to Needy's attack on Jen in her bedroom). As it stands the movie is only just over an hour-and-half long and it could easily have absorbed a lot of these cut moments back into its flow.

There's also a couple of sequences of heavy info dumping when (a) Jennifer is recounting what happened to her when she went away with the band and (b) when Needy is researching what has happened to Jennifer. I realise both, and especially the latter, are slightly tongue-in-cheek - as highlighted by Chip's comment: "Our library has an occult section?", but it isn't quite as subtle as maybe Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama were hoping.

Perhaps I was paying too much attention - because I was enjoying it so - but some of the more mysterious aspects of the story, like the wild animals flocking round Jennifer when she is about to kill someone and Needy's almost physic connection with, and vivid daydreams about, the demon are thrown out there but never really fully explored or explained.

Ultimately, Jennifer's Body is a flawed masterpiece. It could have been a horror movie of legendary status because it's heaving with good ideas, but somewhere along the line those ideas got either partially diluted or exorcised completely.

Its failure at the box office wasn't helped by some dreadful miss-selling and the complicit, lazy media who accepted the PR spin that this was some Megan Fox vehicle in an American Pie (with lashings of blood) style vein. It's so much more than that, but unfortunately the movie's strange idiosyncrasies meant it wasn't strong enough to overcome the crass publicity campaign that 20th Century Fox had attached to it.

It would be nice to think there's a more complete "director's cut" lurking out there somewhere that more closely resembles the writer and director's original vision for this movie, but I fear that's an empty dream.

Nevertheless, Jennifer's Body is still a fine piece of gore-splattered, Buffy-style entertainment that's over too quickly and certainly leaves you with a desire to revisit Devil's Kettle sometime soon.

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