Jennifer's Body (Blu-ray / DVD)
Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Distributed by Fox Home Entertainment
There’s a moment early on in Jennifer’s Body that is so striking, so creepy that it incorrectly sets the expectation of a successful marriage between horror and comedy. Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), last seen riding off in the back of a sleazy underground band’s van, reappears in her best friend’s kitchen, silent, battered and bloody while wearing a wide-mouthed, disturbing grin. The duality of this lingering image is intrinsic of the film itself: the ghoulish story of a possessed, man-eating teenager wrapped inside a soft, comedic shell of a movie that’s easily watchable, fairly enjoyable and disappointingly light on the horror.
Jennifer’s Body is writer Diablo Cody’s sophomore script, a follow-up to her Oscar-winning Juno screenplay and, most importantly, a better film. Yes, the script is riddled with dialogue so “clever” that it makes you want to slap a baby, but the thrust of the story is both smartly constructed and well executed. It ends up being a film less about a man-eating demon girl and more about lingering and long-dead friendships that should’ve ended long ago.
Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried) is a mousy student whose friendship with high school sexpot Jennifer is the product of “sandbox love” – a relationship from childhood that continues despite the improbability of it all. Jennifer’s possession doesn’t so much change the dynamic of their seemingly one-sided friendship as it becomes a catalyst for Needy to finally put an end to it. Cody’s script captures every awkward nuance of their relationship (right down to Needy’s curious lesbian attraction to Jennifer) and goes to great lengths to make the titular character as believable as possible, despite being a demon. It’s really her insecurity that drives their friendship, using Needy as a crutch to boost her fragile ego.
And while the core of the script works nicely, there are aspects that do not. For example, a minor subplot concerning a bottomless whirlpool at a nearby river goes nowhere, existing only to serve as an all-too convenient plot device at the film’s climax. There’s also the presence of the desperate rock band, Low Shoulder. Cody’s script outfits them with some genuinely funny lines of dialogue (“Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days … it's like if you don't get on Letterman or some retarded soundtrack, you're screwed, okay? Satan is our only hope.”), but their overall inclusion in the plot goes absolutely nowhere. They play a significant part in getting the story under way, but they’re looped back into the film’s climax for no real reason and without much impact.
It’s the whole third act that could’ve used another pass through Cody’s laptop, really. The horror element, so strong and promising in the aforementioned kitchen scene, wastes away before building any substantial tension - as if Cody and director Karyn Kusama were afraid to let the ‘importance’ of their story be deluded by the man-eating girl angle. As a result, Jennifer’s Body is never as much fun as it thinks it is. Most of its eggs are placed in the dialogue’s basket, making this of greater appeal to non-genre fans (if the online reviews are any indication) who don’t care to see the crazy, gory stuff. There is some gore as Jennifer devours a few poor schlubs, but beyond a blood spatter here and there it’s fairly tame stuff.
Director Kusama gives the film a strong visual style, albeit one that’s devoid of scares. So many bits would’ve benefited from a more atmospheric approach (Jennifer’s eerie, and nudity-less, skinny dip, her attack on a student in the woods and a scene set in a seemingly deserted neighborhood) but result in giving the viewer a missed opportunity feeling most of the time. Given the femininity of the story, it’s understandable why the producers felt a female director might best benefit the material (even though I don’t necessarily agree), but how about one more versed in the horror genre? With a stronger helmsman, Jennifer’s Body could’ve had the much needed horror vibe to offset the weaknesses of Cody’s story. The Blu-ray extras even reveal that some creature work, courtesy of KNB, was created but never utilized. Bummer.
But it’s not a total loss. Megan Fox steps effortlessly into the role of the sexy demon cheerleader, and her performance is far better than expected. Some of the dialogue can be a real chore, although she surprisingly demonstrates some genuinely funny comedic timing along the way. To be fair, the part doesn’t necessarily ask a lot of Fox, so it’s perhaps not the best place to judge her acting abilities. It’s really Amanda Seyfried’s show, though, and she’s a blast to watch. Perfectly capturing every awkward nuance of Needy’s personality, Seyfried is both an appealing heroine and a believable teenager – with her conflicted nature driving much of the narrative. The supporting cast, consisting of Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simmons and Adam Brody, all acquaint themselves with the material, making the performances in Jennifer’s Body its best attribute.
Chomping its way onto Blu-ray and DVD, Jennifer’s Body is truly a sight to behold in glorious 1080p high definition. The transfer never betrays its filmic roots, offering a highly detailed image with eye-popping detail and very strong color. Skin tones look fantastic, and the contrast is startlingly high all around. 20th Century Fox has really gone out of its way to preserve the visual palette here, and it looks just about perfect. Then there’s the matter of your home theater when it comes to the DTS HD 5.1 surround track. It’s loud, but never over-aggressive. Rear channels are rife with background noise, engulfing you in the film’s ambiance. Dialogue is always pitch-perfect and sparklingly clear – separated nicely with the frequent musical cues. On a technical level, this Blu-ray is aces all around.
I’ll be honest, it was the commentary track on the film’s theatrical cut, with Cody and Kusama, that gave me a slightly deeper appreciation for the film. It's a surprisingly amusing discussion that’s lively and a little brisk – although the story’s themes are explored and differences between the film’s two versions are discussed. Then, Kusama goes solo for a scene-specific commentary on the extended version (running five minutes longer than the theatrical cut). Both versions of the movie are included on this Blu-ray (a practice ALL studios need to employ) – making this the definitive release for all the film’s fans.
A small collection of extended scenes is included here in high definition, along with a gag reel/music video/behind-the-scenes thingy, a fourteen-minute making-of wherein KNB man Greg Nicotero showcases the unused gore effects and a twelve-minute compilation of video diaries from Fox, Seyfried, Johnny Simmons and Diablo Cody. There are some minor additions like a Megan Fox PSA and a baffling featurette titled, wait for it, Megan Fox is HOT, which just features some of her hottest scenes strung together in a 50-second clip show. There’s also a thirty-minute feature of Diablo Cody having an enjoyable discussion with a group of film students. Cody comes off both smart and level-headed here as she discusses the pressures of following up an Oscar-winning script.
Jennifer’s Body isn’t the train wreck many have claimed, but let’s not be so quick to grant it instant cult status, either. It’s a lively and likable enough movie that never realizes its full potential. Those of you who’ve seen Ginger Snaps won’t even find it that original, but the good cast (and a partially good script) makes up for some of its shortcomings. I can’t fully recommend it, but I will say I’m contemplating another viewing this weekend, which means there’s something to it. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Blu-ray Special Features
DVD Special Features
3 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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