Rebounding somewhat from her 2005 sci-fi megaflop Aeon Flux, Karyn Kusama makes the most of a hired-gun assignment as director of the body horror comedy Jennifer’s Body, bringing a grab bag of visual flourishes and atmospheric compositions to bear on the much-discussed sophomore script of writer and gadfly Diablo Cody. Approaching the opening scene as if the title were the subject, Kusama’s camera lovingly explores the body of Jennifer (Megan Fox, acting beautiful and aloof like a champ) as she lies prone in bed, tracking between her legs and cutting intrusively close to her face to watch her chew on a strand of hair, while successfully conveying the key point that Jennifer, though the babe of all babes, is alone. Emotionally empty and reliant on her perfect looks for social currency, Jennifer invites our pity at the outset despite her cringe-worthy adherence to bimbo wisdom, as when she scores underage drinks by playing “Hello titty” with a bartender, and her revolting behavior toward mousy lifelong friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried), which is frequently punctuated by her signature, pouty-lipped threat, “I’m crossing you out.”
Feeling sympathy for this devil gets easier after a night out with Needy at the local watering hole to see indie-rock band Low Shoulder erupts in surreal horror. In a brutal scene notable for its graphic sound work, the dreamy members of Low Shoulder follow up their last emo ballad by setting the stage and the bar ablaze, slipping out the back as the sickening sounds of roasting flesh and bones being broken underfoot fill the soundtrack. In the inferno’s aftermath, shell-shocked survivor Jennifer is easily lured into Low Shoulder’s van, which speeds to a site of ritual sacrifice where they intend to slaughter a virgin as part of a pact with Satan for rock glory. Thus follows the film’s most affecting and deeply weird scene, one which showcases Cody’s ability to amplify the level of horror in her horror-comedy at will without losing either element; with Jennifer bound and visibly crying through a gag, Low Shoulder proceeds to grace her with an a cappella rendering of “867-5309/Jenny” before dispatching her with a blade, a bizarre ceremony to say the least.
The band having made a big mistake in their assessment of Jennifer’s virtue, it’s the town that suffers when the tainted ritual results in an abomination, a living dead hottie that must now consume copious amounts of flesh in order to stay vibrant and pretty. Curiously for a horror film, the resulting wave of slaughter is not only the least conceptualized element of Jennifer’s Body but also the least moneyed, with Jennifer’s mode of attack involving a TV-grade CGI effect that transforms her face into a gaping vermin maw; even this is eventually retired in favor of simply turning the camera to the wall for shadow pantomimes. The film is simply on shaky ground when trying to adopt slasher conventions, and less so when adhering to traditional body-horror tropes, such as the protagonist’s simultaneous fascination and revulsion over their internal change, something identifiable here in as much as we see demon Jennifer both playfully burning her invulnerable tongue with a lighter and then cringing at her slowly decaying face in the mirror while in a darker mood, though any deeper themes are elusive. Jennifer’s Body represents a cornucopia of ideas, both comedy and horror, and the determination of the filmmakers to simply play the odds of getting more elements right than wrong instead of pursuing a purer vision makes it a mixed viewing experience, though often a very strange and funny one.