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If the Occult Had a Teenaged Daughter


There is a fundamental rule in writing that we adults take for granted. It was taught to us in elementary school. You've probably forgotten it by now, but you've heard it. The rule says, never start a story with "once upon a time" and never finish it with "and they lived happily ever after." It became a rule because children have storybooks read to them that begin and end that way. An end had to come of our expectations for more of the same infantile content. We had to graduate to reading rational narratives of the adult world.
Jennifer's Body, starring Megan Fox as Jennifer Check and Amanda Seyfried as Needy Lesnicky, is a film with a story that retreats into the level of fantasy akin to something you would find in EMO or Goth themes. Not exactly children's viewing, with it's plenty of sex and gore, but it does have the same defiance of grim reality that a child's book has. It defies reality. It also defies expectations as a horror movie. It isn't particularly scary, and it introduces nothing new or menacing so as to compete with classics, like The Exorcist (1973) or even that respectable modern achievement, Population 436 (2006).

It seems to be going nowhere...and going nowhere rather slowly. The elements don't look to be coming together, but they are, just not believably; the odds of running into a murderous Satan-worshipping group of guys are pitifully small; people don't react like they do in the film when escaping from a burning building; and no, a gal with a box-cutter can't overpower a demon-energized human being when a 220-pound man tried and failed. But those aren't failures. They are intentionally done for effect, for the same effect found in a child's reality-bending narrative that rides on imagination. Watch it with that eye.

The film promotes stereotypes, and in so doing, defies them. You're not getting force-fed a diet of militant feminist propaganda because it pulls no punches in casting aspersions on the same: "PMS is a myth created by the boy-run media to make everyone think women are crazy." Oh, that's good! And it's not fodder for lesbian foreplay, but it's as much of a flirt to any sexual orientation as Jennifer Check herself, that teaser of exacerbating skill. Like a true woman, it's hard to see where the movie is going. But unlike some of the women in my life, its behavior will be found to make sense in the end.

Devil's Kettle is a cool name for a small town. And like many a small town, here you have the self-absorbed focus on the events and news that concern its citizens. That overplayed aspect was also intentional. In this town, two girls are best friends (Jennifer and Amanda), the latter being submissive to the former. Their friendship dynamic has been tested many times, not the least of which being that Amanda's boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) hates it that his girlfriend is forever preoccupied with her controlling and stuck-up best friend, that b!tch of b!tches named Jennifer. You don't have to worry about strains on the friendship for too long. They are soon to become the least of the items on anyone's list of concerns.

Jennifer's Body indulges in a splurge of Occult fiction and girl-talk, and it beautifully blends both. It sticks in a sense of capriciousness and at no time does it presume to try and scare you with any of the used shock value models on the horror movie market. No big surprises either. It relies on something old - mythology - and then it girl-lifies it with tampon talk and hordes of remarks to socially relevant teen issues and sex: "It smells like Thai food in here. Have you two been f*cking?" I forgot to mention, it's raunchy.

It doesn't succeed with the soft-core humor, but it does with the brilliantly written lines-gotta love 'em! A bad ending hasn't been this cinematically satiating in a while, and a girly-girl kill flick hasn't measure up since Kill Bill Volumes I amp; II. It will be up to the individual to determine if the high school flavor or lukewarm attempts at being humorous or attractive exceed their limitations. Jennifer's Body does not reach masterful standards of artistic expression or horror icon status, but it does fly as a satisfyingly clever achievement. B-

(JH)