Read This Before You Watch “Jennifer’s Body”

Welcome to another exciting week of our horror film series. We’re wrapping up our two month focus on films written and direct by women by watching yet another Karyn Kusama film. As you’ll recall, she directed “The Invitation,” that slow-burn, death-cult suspense thriller we watched last month. This time we’re taking a look at her 2009 release, “Jennifer’s Body,” based on a script by Diablo Cody, best known as the screenwriter for the huge, non-horror box-office hit “Juno” (2001). Kusama’s big, non-horror debut film was “Girlfight” (2000), which she wrote as well as directed.

Before we go much further with this introduction to our film of the week, I would ask you to please note that we are not watching “Knives & Skin” as originally planned. While I’m still hoping we will get a chance to watch that one, it has recently come to my attention that one is still fifteen dollars to rent or purchase via online streaming. Since I recognize you’ve all already subscribed to Netflix, Prime, and possibly Shudder, I want to avoid additional fees wherever possible. There are plenty of great horror movies for us to watch together without having to spend even more money on them than we already are. Thanks for your flexibility. As I said, we’ll circle back to “Knives & Skin” down the road.

Although 2009 isn’t all that long ago and the film still feels fresh and relevant, “Jennifer’s Body” is actually little older than most of the films we’ve been watching in this horror film series. Interestingly, even though it fits perfectly into our current spotlight on female directors and arguably marked the early start of this wave of horror films by women in the 2010’s, the movie got panned by critics and flopped at theaters when it was first released. It has since gained a strong cult following, but one of the things worthy of our further contemplation here is the film’s earlier dismissal.

“Jennifer’s Body” stars Megan Fox in the title role as Jennifer Check, an archetypal horror movie trope – the slutty, hot-and-she-knows-it, high school mean girl. The actual protagonist of the film, and the one doing the voice over at the start is Jennifer’s BFF Anita (Amanda Seyfried), who bears the unfortunate, if somewhat apt, nickname Needy. The film’s inciting incident comes soon after Jennifer convinces Needy to abandon her nice guy boyfriend Chip to attend a music show at the local watering hole that features an up-and-coming pop-punk band called Low Shoulder. After a suspicious fire breaks out at the bar, a somewhat disoriented Jennifer piles into a creepy van with the lead singer and the rest of the band.

What follows is a strange and compelling mash-up of horror-comedy that combines the riffs on horror sub-genres from demonic possession and black widow flicks to rape-revenge fantasies and good-girl-gone-bad who just can’t stop killing. The acting is funny and smart. The script is unremittingly witty, as one would expect from Diablo Cody. The cinematography is quirky and interesting. The music is consistently mediocre but in complete keeping with the film thematically. And the film as a whole deserved to get more attention when it first came out. That it’s getting more love now is both just and telling.

I think you’re really going to like this one. It not only surprises and delights, but it holds up to repeated viewings. Just don’t get that awful song “Through the Trees” stuck in your head.

As a final note before you read through my discussion questions and go watch the film, some of you following along with this horror film series are probably too young to have grown up listening to grunge music, so it’s worth my giving you a heads-up about the pop culture allusion in the title of this film. The name of this film was clearly inspired by the song “Jennifer’s Body” from the album Live Through This (1994) by Courtney Love’s angry riot grrrl band Hole. While the song does not appear in the soundtrack, the closing credit do roll over another Hole song from that same album.

Listen to Hole’s song “Jennifer’s Body” here: https://youtu.be/DTu3mCK54C4

Published by Chuck Caruso

writer of dark fiction (crime, horror & western noir), literary & textual scholar (american gothic, noir, po-co, sf), and cultural critic

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