in Shocktober

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Needy Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) is a violent inmate in an asylum who is convinced the people running the place are trying to keep her placid with shitty food and frequent exercise. She’s not having any of that, so she assaults someone and gets thrown into solitary confinement. It seems hard to believe that not too long ago she was an insecure student at a small town high school. Just what the hell happened here?

Flashback to Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota, a small town named for it’s unusually spooky waterfall (the town isn’t real but Devil’s Kettle is). A bespectacled Needy serves as the total beta best friend to Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), the popular cheerleader who has done it all. One night, Jennifer convinces Needy to ditch her dopey boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons, Scott Pilgrim‘s Young Neil), and go to the local dive bar to see an indie emo band called Low Shoulder. Everyone’s like, huh, that’s kind of unexpected, doesn’t seem like a small town dive bar would really be the market for late 2000s emo, but, you know, bands take weird gigs in horror movies.

Jennifer immediately starts hitting on lead vocalist Nikolai (Adam Brody), who seems pretty stoked about getting a shot with a hot virgin. Jennifer’s extremely not a virgin, but she wants to seal that deal so she lets him believe what he wants. Not that it really matters, part of the way through Low Shoulder’s first song a fire breaks out and rapidly spreads, killing some locals. Needy guides a somewhat entranced Jennifer out of the building but they are intercepted by Low Shoulder, who coax the seemingly bewitched Jennifer into their van. Needy drives herself home and tries to go to calm herself down, only to be disturbed by the arrival of a visitor.

Needy finds a bloody, out-of-sorts Jennifer who acts very strangely around her friend. She ends up trying to devour a Boston Market rotisserie chicken and instead spews black goo all over the kitchen. The next day at school, a teacher played by an uncharacteristically meek J.K. Simmons tries to reassure the grief-stricken student body. No one except for Needy notices how weird it is that unlike everyone else, Jennifer appears to be thriving. When Needy asks Jennifer about what happened last night, Jennifer blows it off like Needy imagined the whole thing. Except Needy spent the whole night cleaning up that goo and knows for sure it really happened. As more tragedies befall the town in the days following the fire, Needy has no choice but to start suspecting her BFF might somehow be involved and may be actually a Boy-Feasting Female.

Jennifer’s Body was written by Diablo Cody and was her second film after 2007’s Juno. It seems like a safe sophomore effort after all the success she had with her first movie, keeping a high school setting and her signature snappy, heightened dialogue. But it’s also kind of a coincidence those two similar projects came out back-to-back, as she had a lot of projects going at that time. Her ShowTime series with Steven Spielberg, United States of Tara, also debuted in 2009 and Jennifer’s Body was one of several scripts she had sold after Juno‘s screenplay started opening doors for her even before the movie went into development. Despite that pedigree, at its release, Jennifer’s Body was given a fairly negative reception, being criticized as a horror comedy that was neither scary or funny enough to live up to either genre.

In the 12 years since then, the landscape of criticism has changed and many of the aspects that were dismissed back then can be appreciated now. People were dismissive of Megan Fox, since this was her first leading role after rising to stardom in the Transformers movies. Actually, she’s pretty great in this. Not nearly enough ink was dedicated to Amanda Seyfried, who has to believably transform from a high school nobody to an intense ass-kicker. Similarly, director Karyn Kusama, who helped set both Michelle Rodriguez and Charlize Theron down the road to action movie stardom (and a collision course in the Fast & Furious franchise), deserves credit for her deft direction. Everything that this movie had going for it was seemingly brushed aside to make room for juvenile complaints that we don’t see enough sexy stuff.

Because the thing that’s changed the most is that critics are actually willing to pay attention to stories about women being victimized. It’s troubling that a film so recently made resonated with so few male film writers with its obvious allegory about how puberty changes how society treats women. I mean, come on, Jennifer has to feed once a month! Anyway, thankfully a cult following has emerged to reassess and celebrate Jennifer’s Body as the rock solid film that it actually is. Is it too late to get a sequel with Needy’s new adventures? Can Blumhouse make that happen?

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