The 2009 horror film “Jennifer’s Body,” directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody, is a high school-centric story of two girls who are unlikely best friends – one becomes demon possessed (becoming a vampiric and cannibal, devouring only boys), while the other cautiously faces the change. At the time of the film’s release, it struck me as a sardonic satire, on the boastful vanity of young men and high school banalities, which both bolded its politics and squandered its metaphysics. Watching it again now (as of Wednesday it’s available for free on Tubi and free for Amazon Prime subscribers), I find the movie’s mocking tone to be much less meaningful than the agony it portrays – and I find that its politics emerge less from the drama and intentions of the characters than from the overwhelming symbolic power of its complex premise. It’s a film whose details risk getting lost in the hectic, gory fury of its action, but the underestimation and overwhelming of its details are themselves part of the story.
The main character, Jennifer Check (played by Megan Fox), is the head cheerleader at her high school in rural Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota. (The town is fictional, but the waterfall it is named after is real.) It is outgoing, brash, elegant, cynical and confident; she is well aware that she is considered beautiful and desirable, and she uses her allure to have fun and adventure. Her best friend, apparently her only friend, nerdy-style Anita Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried), nicknamed Needy, is a classic wingman. (The unlikely friendship has its roots in infancy or, as Jennifer says, in the sandbox.) On her lead singer, she recruits Needy to join her there, and Needy makes sure to dress up. seductively enough, but not so much to compete with Jennifer.
A scene from the girls’ pre-concert prep, like the rest of the film, is narrated by Needy. The entire film is told from his perspective and shown, in extended flashback, from a mental institution, where Needy is involuntarily being held. There, she is known to the guards and other inmates for her earthiness, even her violence. Thrown into solitary confinement after kicking a nutritionist (Candus Churchill) in the face, Needy begins telling the story of her and Jennifer, which took place just two months before. At the bar, called Melody Lane, Jennifer plans to socialize in a sophisticated way – at least, a high school student’s idea of what is sophisticated – with lead singer Nikolai (Adam Brody), by offering her the drink of house specialty, a “9/11 Tribute Shooter” (even though she herself is a minor and knows that in order to get these drinks she will have to flash the bartender). But Nikolai – himself a sophisticated fake, another small town kid (who claims to be from Brooklyn) – talks about Jennifer to his fellow students with misognynistic condescension, seeing her as another groupie to use for what he wants. suppose to be her virginity.
The details of Melody Lane’s release are so meaningful and resonant that they give the film most of its power. As the band play and while an excited Jennifer shakes Needy’s hand so hard it leaves traces, a fire breaks out in the rafters of the club and quickly spreads, trapping many customers. Jennifer freezes with fear but Needy leads her into the bathroom, where they escape through a small high window. They and the group make their way to the parking lot safely, while other spectators flee, in the background, on fire and dying. Jennifer seems dissociated; Nikolai, who seems too calm, invites the two girls into the group’s van and forces Jennifer to have a drink. Needy resists and tries to dissuade Jennifer, who appears to go with Nikolai of her own accord, but is clearly not in a state to consent. As the van pulled away, Needy was certain, she said, that something horrible would happen.
Something Horrible Happens – Nikolai and her band mates severely and violently abuse Jennifer (although the incident is only seen later in the movie, as a flashback in a flashback, when she finally tells the story to Needy). Later that same night, after the fire, Needy is home alone (while her mother works late), and Jennifer shows up in her kitchen, horribly injured and dripping blood. Without saying anything, Jennifer tears up a roast chicken in Needy’s fridge, roars, chokes, and apparently vomits gallons of black blood filled with needle-like weight, before giving Needy something like a vampire kiss on neck and go.
Yet the next day at school Jennifer shows up unharmed, seemingly quite herself, albeit intensely sardonic, mean to Needy and everyone else, as their teacher (JK Simmons) talks about the eight students who died in the fire the night before. After class, Needy confides in her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), about the horrific sight of Jennifer bloody in the kitchen a few hours earlier – and Chip, not openly believing her, advises her to see the psychologist in school. That day after school, Jennifer flirts with college football player Jonas (Josh Emerson) and seductively lures him into the woods, where, as she begins to undress, she tears him apart. with his fanged mouth. The murder remains unexplained; she continues her stealthy reign of terror, killing other male classmates. Needy, meanwhile, remarks that the whole school seems sad and numbed by the growing tragedies, except for Jennifer. As the murder streak progresses, Needy experiences telepathic visions that make it clear to her, and herself, that Jennifer is the killer.
If there is a telepathic connection between the two girls, it is largely based on the anguish of forced silence, the recognition that the horrific experience that one has endured and the other has gone through will go largely unrecognized and not corrected. Where real-world justice is doomed to fail, the film’s plot offers supernatural compensation. What all of Jennifer’s victims have in common is that they allow themselves to be attracted and seduced by Jennifer without having any interest or relationship with her. Jennifer’s literal survival depends (for supernatural reasons) on her ability to satisfy her vampiric and cannibalistic hunger pangs, and thus continue her unhindered plot of revenge. His silent duplicity towards Needy – in fact, his Needy gas lighting – is a matter of life and death. The film dramatizes the metaphysical revenge on a world – or half-world – out of whack, on men who only want Jennifer’s body.
The power of the idea, however, of silencing both Jennifer and Needy in the face of a ruthless young patriarchy, is eerily subordinate in the film. His ambiguous aesthetic ironically deflects him or vitiates him with an exhilarating spectacle, starting with the zingy, slamming crackle with which Cody’s script decorates teenage lives. In the good times briefly recalled, Needy and Jennifer are called “Vagisil” and “Monistat” respectively. Jennifer calls the bar fire a “white basket roast pork,” and Needy reflects on the country’s “tragic good mouth” for the deadly blaze. The script contains a plethora of pop culture references with a comedic twist, from Phil Collins (Needy has never heard of him) to Maroon 5 (confirmed by Nikolai as hero) to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (Jennifer think it’s a boxing movie). The film’s fabricated slang seems to ricochet off lockers in the high school hallways, but to a purely ornamental effect, except to the extent that its screaming clamor stifles the silence of its two female protagonists. Cody’s megawatt script appears to requisition Kusama’s direction, overtaking ferocious and focused ideas.
The film satirizes the moralizing nature of small town life with a subplot in which the group capitalizes on the tragic fire by writing a song about it, which becomes a kind of national funeral song and makes them local heroes for Needy and Jennifer’s classmates. Yet the twist is more than just a mockery of tearful expressions of public sentiment: When Needy calls out the group for their malicious profit, another girl, an Asian classmate named Chastity (Valerie Tian), defends the group for. her noble gesture – a strange symbolic representation of women publicly siding with predatory men. Neither the characters nor the local context emerge with sufficient substance to infuse the film’s grand design with meaningful psychology or politics. Furthermore, the film’s cast and characterizations are split in a narrow and subconscious way: non-white characters, such as Chastity, the anonymous nutritionist Needy assaults, a prison medic named Raymundo (Dan Joffre) whom Needy condescends to, and an exchange student called only “Ahmet from India” (Aman Johal) – are treated as mere dramatic props.
The vision in “Jennifer’s Body” of the danger, slurs, dismissal and abuse that await young women – and the desperate and self-defeating efforts to deal with it – anticipates the immense power of films such as “Young Promising Woman.” Last year. He also anticipates the aesthetic blind spots of this film. Both films are ultimately more rewarding as illustrations of ideas than as experiences. In “Jennifer’s Body,” the pessimistic addition of a metaphysical element – suggesting no way out except through supernatural intervention, whether divine or satanic – is conceptually grandiose but not very guiding. The film’s furious and empathetic base, tied to its supernatural superstructure, made it a potential successor to “Twin Peaks”. Its impulses and implications, if not its relatively incomplete and inverted world-construction, are worthy of comparison.