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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Jennifer's Body" (2009)

"Jennifer's Body" (2009)

Diablo Cody's horror-comedy gets almost everything wrong. Really. A tale of a high school vixen, the eponymous Jennifer (Megan Fox) who becomes possessed by a demon and proceeds to kill the local boys until her nebbishish best friend (Needie) steps up to stop it.

Where do I begin? Well, the reason that all of this happens is pretty well thought out, thank goodness, or it would have been a complete disappointment. Let's just say that the next time you sacrifice a virgin, make sure the hymen is actually intact. Yow.

But what did she get wrong?

1) Jennifer's killing of the boys. There is a simple reason that women are usually threatened in these movies: no one cares if you kill boys. They just don't. It wasn't scary at all, it was really kinda funny, and the audience was snickering. Males who cannot defend themselves are pretty much perceived as worthless. And if attacked by a female, even one possessed by a just isn't scary.

2) Generally, in horror films, the person who actually faces off with the monster is a member of the same group who has been threatened. In other words, in films where women are being threatened, a guy doesn't come in to save the day. Usually, the most intelligent and virtuous female kills the monster. Not always, but it allows the audience to discharge the tension. Not here. Men killed, the best friend resolves it. That makes the target group...just targets. That CAN work, but it doesn't, quite.

3) Cody's signature dialogue, so pleasing in "Juno", feels labored here. A bit too hip, as if she has great insight into the vocal patterns of white teenaged suburban girls, but little grasp of group psychology under pressure. There is a fire at a bar, and the reactions of people to the death and destruction just never felt spot on. Too much at one point, too little at another, as if the writer was watching humanity through a thick intellectual filter. I don't believe she actually felt any of it.

4) Even the reaction between these two friends was ultimately broken so that Cody could play with the sexual subtext of their long-standing relationship. She was more interested in the hidden power games in girls' friendships (especially between the Hottie and the Nottie) than actually playing out the situation she set up. For instance: although Needie (the name is too clever by half) knows that her friend has been possessed by a demon, in all of the climactic dialogue, she addresses Jennifer as if she has volition in the matter. Not one single time does she address the demonic force within her. Nor does she display the slightest interest in trying to free her friend of the demon. No, she just allows her resentment to boil up, and acts totally as if Jennifer planned the whole thing. I've never seen that before, and it trashes their relationship, makes her look stupid, and turns them both into puppets so that Cody can express what seems to be a pretty misanthropic view of humanity. This, combined with a lack of real commitment to the premise, leeches the movie of any real tension--these aren't people, they're just pawns on a political grid.

I could go on, but the upshot is that there is barely a genuinely tense moment, the comedy feels forced and mean, the boys are either useless or utter tools, and there is actually no center of good in the entire universe to identify with. I'm sure she was trying to say something about female empowerment or something...but this just didn't work in any way at all. I have to give it a "D."


Pagan Topologist said...

It is certainly true that no one gets upset when males (boys or men) get killed. It is the reason that women will talk about the crisis of violence against women but be unperturbed by the much greater violence against men. Challenging this gets a totally dismissive response from feminists, since they also don't value men's lives much. Certainly, women are more valuable to any culture than men, but the total indifference to violence against men is most disturbing.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Do you think it would be impossible to make a movie in which violence against men was taken seriously, or just very difficult?

I might as well recommend Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank, which is one of those "everything you thought you knew is wrong" books. In particular, hymens are a much vaguer indicator than is commonly believed.

Shady_Grady said...

I had also heard of bad reviews of "Jennifer's Body", because the violence against men is considered to be deserved on some level.

I think it would be difficult to make a horror movie in which violence against men was particularly transgressive in the way that violence against women is. "Devil's Rejects" was pretty equal opportunity in that regard.

"Saving Private Ryan" and "Unforgiven" showed violence against men being taken pretty seriously but of course neither one was a horror movie.

Pagan Topologist said...

Nancy, the link you posted does not work.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

No html, so this should work. Thanks for letting me know.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Actually, it's possible to do male-in-jeopardy horror, even female-to-the-rescue-of-male-in-jeopardy horror, and have the viewer care about the male. The Ring did it (American version, since I haven't seen the Japanese version and don't know how that differs) by having the male in jeopardy be a very young boy and the woman trying to rescue him be his mother.

You could probably make the mother trying to rescue son version compelling even if the son were old enough to normally fit the role of horror movie cannon fodder that no one much cares about. But it does take more work to get viewers to care if the characters you're threatening are both male and easily past puberty.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

On the other hand, my own personal worst screenplay attempt ever was the one where I tried making the virgin in danger of being sacrificed a male Mormon missionary.

Steve Perry said...

I know of a big martial arts guy -- literally big -- who sells videos of his art. In one of them -- he's like, six-two, maybe two-ten, and an iron pumper -- he demonstrates defenses.

His attacker is a young woman a foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter.

These are to laugh -- because even if she was really adept, the sight of a big, strong man throwing an itty-bitty woman around is simply not going to impress anybody, since it is the default expectation.

If guys are being felled by a woman in a monster movie, you get the same default expectation.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I was assuming that the guys in a monster movie were attacked by the monster.

My first thought was to make the man crippled, but maybe that's cheating.

Steven Barnes said...

It is POSSIBLE to do a "man in jeopardy" film ("Misery" for instance) but harder. The reason: if he's crippled, he's automatically less value to the society than the same human being with full capacity. On the other hand, a woman can be totally useful to her society in every way, but still perceived as "vulnerable" for lack of upper-body strength, or even because she is pregnant.
I've definitely seen films where tough men are threatened ("Dog Soldiers", a terrific werewolf movie, comes to mind), but it's hard. Children can be used, too. But when men are wounded or vulnerable, the movie audience--men and women--jeer him, and actually cheer for the monster! Take a young, fertile woman in the same situation, and the audience will scream: "save her!" I've seen it too many times.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

My assumption was that if the man is crippled, then the expectation that he should be defending himself is somewhat lifted. On the other hand, I haven't studied movie audiences the way you have.

In the book, the man in Misery is crippled-- I don't know about the movie.

You go to movies with much more talkative audiences than I've seen-- it might be a regional difference.

This is reminding me of when I was reading a book about biology called Why Males Exist back in the seventies. The title was in big black letters, and I was surprised to get some nervous responses-- I had no idea till then that a lot of guys are unsure of their welcome in the world.

Foxessa said...

Buffy did it all the time, that saving thing of males in distress: big guys, little guys, supernatural guys, bad guys and good guys both, and some of them both good and bad.

Love, C.

muebles ourense said...

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