Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dead Jennifers

Sex + death, the two go to bed together like cotton and thread, weaving celluloid flytraps, sticking like glue to our attention span's twitchy antennae. And in horror movies, chicks with curves and fangs, guys with rods and pokers, it all comes together, and the girls are named.... Jennifer? Oh, Jennie!

But dig, why do we need the moralist, the conscience? What's wrong with offing the transgressors if they happen to be misogynist frat boys? Why is it that people who loved Juno hate Jennifer, and I who hated JUNO love Jennifer, oh Jenny! I can tell ya, cauze with Jennifer, Cody shows she can write dialogue without sounding like everything is in quotes.

JENIFER (2007) Directed by Dario Argento
A little hour-long masterpiece by the king of creepiness that comes highly recommended, especially for anyone whose ever been in an unstable relationship with a chick named Jennifer. I don't even want to get into the plot, suffice it to say that it's creepy, gory and explores issues of male sexism, perversion and obsessive lust like none other.

JENNIFER'S BODY (2009) Directed by Karyn Kusami: 
I couldn't even get all the way through JUNO and I love Ellen Page so it figures I'd hate JENNIFER'S BODY. But it's actually not the case. Maybe my expectations were rock bottom low, and I watched it immediately after the far more depressing and vaguely similar DEADGIRL (2008), but I liked JENNIFER'S BODY. Ten minutes into it I was already jumping off the anti-Cody bandwagon.

I still am against JUNO, which to me is the movie version of that new kid in school who looks kind of old, and shows up in your home room with hip clothes six years out of style, and everyone but the teachers instantly peg her for a narc. Much as I love Ellen Page, she can't fool me. JUNO is a freaking narc. But JENNIFER'S BODY goes deep into the crucible of gender/sex-related teen horror and finds the root chords and plucks them like a magic twanger, Froggy. It knowingly nods to other films and drops arcane faux-slang, but since it's not in service of some icky agenda it strengthens its sense of otherworldly metaphor.  JB plays out like a fever dream that more established women directors like Jane Campion and Catherine Breillat sometimes over-shoot  but punchy little Karyn Kusama (below right) nails it and comes up with a perfect popcorn technicolor myth.

Kusama's big breakout film was GIRLFIGHT, which may help explain the ease with which strong women characters come tumbling out of JENNIFER'S BODY: "I have a lot of empathy for those girls who just can’t seem to find a place for their kind of energy, their kind of intensity," she said about GIRLFIGHT and that seems a good explanation for the strong sense of "perfect click" between Cody's award-winning sass and Kusama's colorful comic book moxy. They're not afraid to linger on a long close-up lesbian kiss or a gut-munching, and they can show the heroine dismiss her boyfriend as too weak to help when the girls go off to battle. Kusama's not afraid to go there, to have the hipster boy toy be the one who cries and pines at home while our heroine goes off and rips the joint up.

As for DEADGIRL (2008). That film, oh man. It's well-made, low-key and brave in exploring the ugliness of the high school male sex drive, but so what? I'll just ask another question: if society collapsed and zombies were rampant, what is the first thing you'd want to do? Loot a liquor store? Steal that NM copy of Fantastic Four #1 out of the comic store window? Pack your car with firearms and dogfood and head off into the mountains? If the first thing you imagine yourself doing is chaining yourself up a nice naked zombie sex slave then, God help you, here's DEADGIRL.

I will advise this as alternative: why don't you operate on the realistic level and take home a chick whose not as hot as Megan Fox--not even close--but who's sweet and has a nice personality? Megan Fox is supposed to be very unpleasant to work with, and a less hot chick might be nicer. Anything should be better than a snapping, filth-encrusted living dead woman with jet-black eyes and gnashing teeth to come home to every night. Good lord, it's such a depressing and strained metaphor and meanwhile sex slavery is a horrific reality. When you use ugly brutal reality as a metaphor for teenage hormonal longing, that's moving in the opposite direction of what metaphor is all about!

I appreciate what I think the DEADGIRL people were trying to do. I was dimly aware of some feminist subtext in there somewhere, some critique of male objectification, but in the end it's just a stream of dank basement scenes of dislikable male characters spewing some well-written gutter dialogue. The worst is the brooding nominal hero who spends his days behind library stacks while his lady love does homework with her jock boyfriend. Other outcast horndogs include a sniveling skate rat, and as the gone from geek-to-ghoul local douche-bag--a variation of Arnie in CHRISTINE (1983)--a very cool and interesting actor I've never seen before, Noah Segan. I loved his Mike Nesmith-style southern twang, which interestingly was the same exact twang Alexis Kanner spoke with in GOODBYE GEMINI [1970], which I saw just the night before! Another plus is the poorly rendered but admirably conceived oral castration scene and I'll confess those sort of things always cheer me up when I'm feeling ashamed of my gender and its inherent objectives. Apparently this drubbed up a lot of internet debates, so I'll leave you with a nice quote from Salon's Andres Ohehir:
Try as you may to squeeze "Deadgirl" into some pseudo-feminist frame, it doesn't quite fit. This is a movie about youthful male alienation -- that venerable American-cinema topic -- and its tragicomic consequences.
So in closing, remember when shopping for Jennifers, stick with the brands you know: Argento's version, JENIFER, from the Masters of Horror series, is horrific, brilliant and best of all only one hour long (You can cue past the opening credits featuring two cops gobbling Chinese food on stakeout, kinda gross.) And the sexy, sleek JENNIFER'S BODY has surprising heft thanks to its solid fairy tale-archetypal bones and the one-two punch of Cody's deadpan  dialogue and Kusama's girl-power momentum. Plus, now that I know who Megan Fox is, I'll never forget her. She's pretty cute, and her hair is perfect, Awooo! Lycanthrope a Londres.

Meanwhile, a bespectacled Amanda Seyfried gets stuck with the moral conscience in this one; hers is the tired burden of having to say "Jennifer, you can't just go around killing people all the time!" which, of course, the audience and the film disagrees with. God! I hate that in every movie there's this super drag moral conscience character and we're supposed to feel for them as they sit in class acting all stoic while they carry the burden of being the only one who knows their BFF is a cannibal demon zombie, or sleeping with one, or killing jocks, or obsessed with a Satanic car that kills jocks. Man, but you know whose movies have no such moral center? Dario Argento! JENIFER flows free and easy without any such moral cockblocking. Just gird your loins and get ready to flip your wick back into its waxy nest, never to rise and burn again, for the true Swordman 2 has castrated himself for maximum kung fu power!!


  1. Nice review. Good to see I'm not the only one with some affection for Jennifer's Body. After six months of people talking shit about it, I was beginning to wonder if I'd taken temporary leave from my senses.

  2. I think it helps to go into JENNIFER'S BODY with low to no expectations and thankfully after the critical lashing it took when it first came out I was prepared to hate it and was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, esp. Adam Brody's emo band which looked like they took the worst parts of Dashboard Confessional and The Killers and mixed 'em in bowl and played 'em for laughs.

  3. Thanks Bryce and J.D., and what's funny is how much these same critics loooved little Juno. After trying to watch Up in the Air last night and finding it too insufferably pleased with itself, chuckling over its own dry but obvious wit like a NY Times Sunday section columnist, I'm convinced the main fault of Juno lies with Jason Reitman, a lad who clearly has never stepped foot outside the Hollywood bubble but who's sure he has a finger on America's pulse.

  4. I was actually avoiding seen Jennifer's Body cause of all the bad reviews :) Great breakdown though, thanks for posting!


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