x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Jennifer's Body

A vampire movie is a vampire movie is a vampire movie...no matter what else a director is trying to say


It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now that the vampire film is officially regarded as an infestation on all international movie-release schedules - this year alone we've had Blood: The Last Vampire, The Vampire's Assistant, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Thirst, and Let the Right One In, and not forgetting the forthcoming Twilight: New Moon - it makes sense that the genre would move beyond its traditional formal confines.

Thus, while the Swedish director Tomas Alfredson recently gave us the first pre-teen coming-of-age vampire movie with Let the Right One In, we now have the pleasure, in Jennifer's Body, of experiencing a hipster US high-school indie drama, vampire style. The credentials for Jennifer's Body are, typically, impressive. It is written by Diablo Cody who became the Oscar-winning overnight sensation of 2007, thanks to her screenplay for the quirky teenage comedy Juno. And it is directed by Karyn Kusama, a filmmaker who, like Cody, made a big splash with her debut, a female boxing film called Girlfight.

While the film stars Megan Fox, a 23-year-old actress who has gone stratospheric since her eye-candy appearance in Transformers and subsequent internet stardom - she is the "babe" of choice for young male readers/watchers/cinema-goers. Between them, these three very different elements have produced a film that is mostly a smart and savvy parody of the often intense and mutually destructive relationships between teenage girls. But it is also a film that is happy to sell the raunch of its leading lady, sadly at the expense of the project's wider credibility.

"Hell is a teenage girl," is how Cody's screenplay begins, launching Jennifer's Body not with the story of Fox's Jennifer, but that of Needy (Amanda Seyfried), her best friend (and, as the name indicates, something of a subordinate to Jennifer's more obvious charms). Needy, it soon transpires, is the straight woman to Jennifer's lip-gloss-laden man-eater. Both are teenage high-school pupils who, in that grandest of Hollywood traditions, are played by actresses in their early twenties.

Needy tells her tale of woe from a mental asylum, explaining how everything was fine in their mid-Western home town, preposterously named Devil's Kettle, until the arrival of the goth band Low Shoulder and its lead singer Nikolai (Adam Brody). On their first night in town, Low Shoulder set fire to their venue, burn 12 people to death, kidnap Jennifer and sacrifice her in a half-baked voodoo ceremony.

However, this doesn't quite work and leaves Jennier instead as a member of the undead vampire class, condemned for ever to drink the blood of her fellow students or start to become pale and, well, normal looking. All this, of course, is handled with tongue firmly in bloodied cheek. The dialogue, with it's quirky argot, is at times reminiscent of Juno. However, the real subject of the film is not the vampirism that Jennifer enjoys (her insatiable appetites push her closer and closer towards Needy's sweet-natured boyfriend Chip, played by Johnny Simmons), but the shifting nature of friendship between teenage girls.

Needy, for instance, has several perspicacious monologues about Jennifer's alpha status within their friendship, and observes how pretty girls never want to be upstaged, socially, by their plain-looking friends. Unfortunately, the film wants to have it's conceptual cake and eat it, too, and is thus filled with gratuitous, glossy views of Fox. In other areas too the movie goes for some shockingly gory shots. These few, ungainly moments are not widespread in Jennifer's Body. Yet there are enough of them to snap you out of your reverie and remind you that this may be a quirky feminist parable about female friendships, but first and foremost it is a vampire movie. With all that implies.