Today, I’m going to take a look at the 2009 horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body.
The plot of Jennifer’s Body is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A newly possessed high school cheerleader turns into a succubus who specializes in killing her male classmates. Can her best friend put an end to the horror?
The screenplay for Jennifer’s Body was written by Diablo Cody, who previously won an Academy Award for Juno. Her other works have included the television shows United States of Tara and One Mississippi, as well as the movies Young Adult and Paradise.
Jennifer’s Body was directed by Karyn Kusama, who also directed the films Aeon Flux, The Invitation, and contributed a segment to the anthology film XX.
The cast of Jennifer’s Body includes Megan Fox (Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Mean Girls), Johnny Simmons (Scott Pilgrim vs The World, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Adam Brody (The O.C., Yoga Hosers, CHIPS), Juan Riedinger (Narcos), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Spider-Man, The Accountant, The Ladykillers), and Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Parks & Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy).
The cinematographer for the film was M. David Mullen, who also shot The Love Witch, Akeelah and the Bee, The Astronaut Farmer, and numerous episodes of television series like Big Love, United States of Tara, Get Shorty, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Mad Men.
Plummy Tucker served as the editor for Jennifer’s Body, and also cut the films Aeon Flux and The Invitation for director Karyn Kusama. Notably, Tucker also served as editor for the miniseries 11.22.63.
The music for the film is credited to both Theodore Shapiro (Tropic Thunder, Trumbo, Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory, Idiocracy, Old School) and Stephen Barton (Call of Duty 4, Titanfall).
The town in the movie – Devil’s Kettle – is named after a waterfall in Minnesota’s Judge Magney State Park, which flows into a massive pothole, seemingly into nothingness.
As a tie-in to Jennifer’s Body, a graphic novel was made that expanded on a number of the background characters in the film, and revealed additional details about the monster.
The monster/demon that possesses Fox’s character in the film is, based on its stated details and description, a succubus – a monster from folklore that takes the form of a women, and practices predatory seduction.
The screenplay for Jennifer’s Body was named to the 2007 Black List, which is an annual honor given to a handful of unproduced screenplays deemed to be of high quality. Other screenplays on the list also made it to the screen, such as Selma, The Road, Source Code, Slumdog Millionaire, Zombieland, The Wolf of Wall Street, Doubt, The Revenant, and The Town.
One element of Jennifer’s Body that was covered widely in the media was a kissing sequence between stars Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. Both actresses spoke publicly about the scene, as well as writer Diablo Cody. While many assumed that this sequence was included due to pressure from producers for marketing purposes, Cody has claimed that it was always part of the screenplay, but was sensationalized by audiences and the media:
“if the two protagonists of the film were a guy and a girl and in a particularly tense moment, they shared a kiss, no one would say it was gratuitous. But the fact that they’re women means it’s some kind of stunt. It was intended to be something profound and meaningful…Obviously we knew people were going to totally sensationalize it.”
While the kissing sequence was apparently in line with Cody and Kusama’s vision, the marketing for the film was almost certainly not, and is what most people attribute the film’s critical and financial failure to. At least one critic blamed the film’s poor reception on “misguided, boy-targeted marketing,” and the film’s co-star, Adam Brody, publicly indicated his displeasure with the campaign, remarking:
“I do think it should win a Razzie for Worst Ad Campaign Ever. Seriously. They couldn’t have done a worse poster or trailer if that’s what they fucking set out to do.”
Financially, Jennifer’s Body proved to be far from a blockbuster: in its lifetime theatrical release, it brought in a box office total of $31.5 million on a production budget of $15 million. Critically, it didn’t fare well on its release: it currently holds a 5.2/10 user rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 43% critics and 34% from audiences.
That being said, Jennifer’s Body is in the midst of a critical re-assessment, and is being revisited by many. Recent articles in publications like Bloody Disgusting and Cosmopolitan have encouraged viewers to give the film another shot, now that the film’s marketing campaign is a distant memory.
It goes without saying that there is a weird mismatch between the film’s marketing and its actual content, and that almost certainly had a huge influence on its critical and financial success. However, when the film is separated from its context, there are still some notable issues that hinder it.
To begin with, I think that there is definitely some potential to the concept behind Jennifer’s Body, but many of its core elements have definitely been done much better in other films. It Follows uses anxieties and sexual terror adeptly, The Faculty utilizes a high school setting for a horror film ideally, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night take a similar, predatory adolescent girl and does much more interesting work with the concept. While I do like some of the trope subversions in Jennifer’s Body, such as establishing teenage boys as the targeted victims, it is only addressed once in the film. This is the sort of detail that could have been played up more, and delved into effective satire of the way society treats young women. Those little details can be the difference between a mediocre movie and a good one, if you ask me.
Another issue with this film is its tone. While horror-comedy can be an effective combination, the director has to play a balancing act to pull it off. Here, Cody’s dialogue style creates a distinct tonal mismatch in what is visually a very dark and somber film, which might have been righted in the hands of a different director. There are a few good lines (“lasagna with teeth”), but her writing doesn’t work as well here as it did with the more light-hearted Juno, at least not with the way this film is shot. Frankly, Jennifer’s Body doesn’t fully commit to comedy or horror, and vacillation between them takes nuance to pull off well, which is lacking here.
As far as the performances go, I found Fox to be perfectly decent in her role, though it is definitely more limited than you would imagine – she’s nearly a tertiary character. The real weight of the film is on Seyfried, who does her best to make Cody’s dialogue sound organic. However, she doesn’t handle it nearly as well as Ellen Page, and it comes off as stilted at times.
Personally, I found the most distracting element of the film to be the soundtrack. The selections of contemporaneous alternative music dates the movie, and the selections frequently don’t fit the atmosphere of their scenes. It is pretty obvious that the film was shoehorning in a tie-in soundtrack, in an attempt to bring in an additional market to the theater. Unfortunately, on a rewatch many years later, it definitely hurts the film. At the time, I’m not sure how distracting the music would have been, but it definitely stands out now.
Overall, I think Jennifer’s Body is a pretty mediocre movie that squandered some great potential, even without a poorly-conceived marketing campaign. That said, I think people should give it another shot – particularly women. I suspect there is more here to resonate with for women viewers, which is part of why the male-centered marketing didn’t make sense in the first place. If you think the concept sounds interesting, give it a watch.