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Featured DVD Review: Jennifer's Body

December 28th, 2009

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In 2007 Diablo Cody burst into the movie business as the writer of Juno, which earned top-notch reviews, became the indie darling of the year, and also won more than a few major awards. Her follow-up script was for a film called Jennifer's Body, a black comedy / horror film, which generated some early buzz because of her name alone. With Girlfight director Karyn Kusama attached to direct and Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried set to star, there were high hopes for the film despite its very modest $16 million production budget. However, it was dumped into theaters in the middle of September after earning only mixed reviews and it disappeared quite quickly after that. Was this a sophomore slump for Cody, or an undeserved outcome?

Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried star as Jennifer and Anita (a.k.a. Needy), two high school girls who should move in different social circles. Jennifer is a cheerleader that everyone wants, while Needy is a bit of a nerd. However, they've been friends since they were kids, even if Jennifer is a bit of a "Mean Girl" even to Needy. One night, the two of them head to a dive bar to see an Indie band, low shoulder, whose lead singer takes an interest in Jennifer. After a suspicious fire starts, Needy helps Jennifer escape, only to have Jennifer taken by the band. When she returns to Needy later that night she is changed, and by changed I mean she is covered in blood and pukes up a black oily substance. After Jennifer kills a couple of boys from their high school, she confesses to Needy what happened that night, and when she targets Needy's boyfriend, Needy knows she must stop her former best friend.

Horror / comedies are tough to pull off, as the two genres place nearly opposite demands on the script. Most films in this sub-genre are not scary enough to be a horror and not funny enough to be a comedy. This is true here. Jennifer's Body is a true hybrid and while there are a couple of good kill scenes, there's nothing here that's all that scary. Arguably the scariest scene is also one of the funniest, which is the ritualistic sacrifice of Jennifer by Low Shoulder. There's something about a group of people laughing and joking while killing someone that is a whole lot scarier than someone acting menacing while killing someone. The disconnect between attitude and actions is disturbing. Amanda Seyfried is excellent as Needy, and while I'm still not 100% sold on Megan Fox's acting ability (or her ability to sell tickets for that matter) her performance as male-hunting succubus worked more of the time than it didn't. The gender switch here is the key to the film's success and if you are a fan of such films as Ginger Snaps or the more recent Teeth, you will likely enjoy this film as well. That said, this movie is not as strong as either of those films, or Juno, so it is best to go in with more moderate expectations.

Extras on the DVD are rather limited, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. The DVD includes both the theatrical and the "Unrated" edition, but I would argue that the "Unrated" label is marketing hype. It would be more accurate to describe the movie as an extended director's cut, but that would not sell as well as a DVD with the word "Unrated" written across Megan Fox's stomach. There is an audio commentary track with the director, Karyn Kusama, and the writer, Diablo Cody, but it is on the theatrical version only. The two have good chemistry together and provide information on the inspiration for the script, as well as the filmmaking process. They also talk a lot about the differences between the script and the theatrical release, which is also the focus of the audio commentary track with Karyn Kusama on the extended parts of the extended edition. Basically the extended edition is only five minutes longer, roughly, but the commentary is 30 minutes long and goes over all 19 scenes that were extended. This helps give more context and allows for more time to explain the difference and give reasons why these scenes were removed in the first place.

I do not have the Blu-ray yet, but it appears to have plenty of additional extras. I don't think anything stretches the technology, but I won't be able to say for sure until the screener arrives. Nor will I be able to say for sure if it is worth the extra 43%.

The Verdict

Jennifer's Body is a bit of a mixed bag. If you go in expecting a gorefest, you will be disappointed, but it does a good job with the gender-twist on the usual horror conventions while using the genre as an allegory for female sexuality. On the other hand, Ginger Snaps did this years ago and did it better. The DVD has enough extras that it is at least worth a rental, while the Blu-ray could be the better deal, depending on what the exclusives are.

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