Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Hell is a teenage girl."

This one has been dividing viewers left and right. Personally, on a bottom line level, I enjoyed it but found it a bit too ambitious for its own good. It's also so much of a genre stew that it doesn't really give you a taste of any of the particular ingredients. But then again that may be the whole point of the film.

This is a horror movie, to be sure, but not the kind you're used to. It's not particularly scary, but this is more the sort of film we used to see from David Cronenberg, along the lines of The Brood or The Fly. There's a definite sense of "body horror," hence the title. But there are a lot of other teen movie elements, too, particularly in the co-dependent relationship between Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried). Needy (an endearment for "Anita") tells us early on that people don't understand what a hottie like Jennifer is doing being friends with a nerd like her, but that they've been friends since sandbox days. Now, it's been a while since I was in high school, but even I know it doesn't work that way. Next to no toddler or elementary school friendships survive the transition to high school, especially when the two people are as socially different as Jennifer and Needy. Of course, Jennifer isn't really Needy's friend. Needy is the type of friend that lots of popular girls keep around to make them feel better about themselves. And sadly Needy still apparently believes the sandbox sentimentality, since the whole story is being told in flashback. In fact, what she does in the end is clearly for Jennifer's sake.

I like that the characters in the film never feel like stereotypes. The teens, that is. Needy is ostensibly a "nerd," but she's fairly socially functional. She's not dowdy, despite the glasses, and she goes to clubs and fools around with her boyfriend. She's cool, but a stark contrast to Jennifer, who by the way is not the stereotypical "hot chick" either. A lot of people have slammed the "Cody-speak" of the movie, and I agree that sometimes the desperately hip dialogue gets to be too much (would "move on dot org" really be part of a teen girl's lexicon?). But I also can't help observing that most of it is given to Megan Fox, and rather than making her seem cool, I think it rather undermines her, giving credence to Needy's later claim that Jennifer is no longer "socially relevant." Happy accident or brilliant subversion by screenwriter Diablo Cody? You decide. I'm leaning toward the latter.

Adam Brody and his indie rock band are a great element, but we don't see nearly enough of them. I do love the fact that they position themselves as heroes to the little town and have the bad taste to make it look like they're helping them (by donating a very small part of the profits on their single) when really they are just using them much like they used Jennifer. And the commentary on how they'll never make it big without making a sacrifice to Satan, because in reality they're just like all the other prettyboy indie rock bands trying to catch a break, is hilariously self-aware.

I never quite understood, and I'm fairly sure the movie never explains it to us, the psychic connection Needy has with Jennifer. We first see it in the beginning, when Needy knows Jennifer has arrived at her house before her boyfriend even hears anything. It's the most pronounced in a rather brilliantly cut-together scene of Needy and Chip having sex while newly demonic Jennifer is seducing and murdering goth kid Colin (played by Seyfried's fellow Veronica Mars alum, Kyle "Beaver" Gallner). Needy is somehow aware that something horrible is happening where Jennifer is, and she reacts with horror, which her boyfriend interprets as a pleased response to his efforts. I suppose what bothers me about it the most is that this connection is somehow malfunctioning while Jennifer is being sacrificed to Satan and Jennifer has to actually sit down and tell Needy everything that happened. I mean, I'm glad to find out what happened, and I can see where Cody would want to hold that back until later in the film, but it's just so randomly plopped in and expositiony that it feels really wrong.

Overall, this is an enjoyable movie. I don't ask for a horror movie to be that artistic or to even make that much sense, but I do think it was trying for something that it doesn't quite achieve. Still, I couldn't help being mesmerized by it, much like Jennifer and the rock band with the "salty" lead singer.

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