Tonight Fox showed off what is roughly the first fifteen minutes of Jennifer’s Body, and followed the presentation with a brief mini-press conference featuring star Megan Fox, director Karyn Kusama, writer Diablo Cody and producer Jason Reitman. The footage surprised me; I didn’t think much of the trailer, but really enjoyed the vibe that was given a chance to develop over these early sequences that set the film’s tone. I walked away thinking of Jennifer’s Body much as I did Drag Me To Hell last year: this could be a smart but (in some ways) old-school horror film created by people who love the form.
Many more details after the jump, but (obviously, since I’m talking about the first chunk of the movie) there are some potential spoilers. I’ll keep them to a minimum.
Essentially, what we see is a friendship between Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried). It reminded me of the Laura Palmer – Donna Hayward relationship from Twin Peaks. That is, Jennifer is hot and knows it, but has maybe some unexpected latent naivete; Needy looks like a wallflower at first blush, but is perceptive and has some backbone. When she and Jennifer go out to a crappy roadhouse to catch a lousy rock band from the ‘big city’, Needy wastes no time calling out the singer’s cocky bullshit as he tries to skeeve on a very willing Jennifer.
Things go bad at the roadhouse — think fire, and lots of it — and Jennifer disappears. Back at home Needy is concerned, and while talking to her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons, aka Young Neil from Scott Pilgrim vs the World) Jennifer shows up. But something is really, really wrong. This is where Fox gets to play creepy, and let out the sort of blood-curdling roar that actors must occasionally dream of, and where the movie starts to look like it might be fairly damaged. That’s a good thing. That might not sound like fifteen minutes worth of material, but what Kusama and Cody do is set up a nice little small town world where Jennifer is probably the hottest thing going. They do it with room for the characters to breathe without feeling like they’re just being set up for the kill.
Megan Fox said that she was, in some ways, playing the self-aware Jennifer as a riff on her own public persona, or what people expect her personality to be based on the idea of Fox as a hot actress. “I sort of felt like I was being able to make fun of my own image, of how some people might perceive Megan Fox to be.” And when asked about how this is different from ‘what you’re normally used to doing’ Fox was appealingly blunt:
Oh, you mean from Transformers to this movie? How are they different? [There aren't] distractions, like there aren’t robots to distract you from whatever performance I do give. So if it’s terrible, you’re going to fucking know it’s really terrible. So that, of course, is intimidating.
And listening to Cody talk about writing the film, I think that slotting Jennifer’s Body in alongside Drag Me to Hell might not be very far off base, at least as far as the horror/comedy mix is concerned:
When I first set out to write this, I intended to write something very dark, very brooding, traditional slasher movie, and then I realized about a third of the way into the process that I was incapable of doing that, because the humor kept seeping in. I have a macabre sense of humor; a lot of the things in the movie that are horrifying are funny to me. I’ve always said that I think comedy films and horror films are kind of similar, in that you can witness the audience having a physical release. They’re laughing, they’re screaming, it’s not a passive experience.
And Kusama wanted to have a practical base for the effects as much as possible:
It was a choice that we all made organically; I think we appreciate those [practical] effects in older movies, and I question sometimes how much more effective it is to use a ton of CG, so we always started with a practical effect and then moved forward from there, to lay a groundwork of something that is actually physically there. It was more fun, too.
What’s the final word? Give it to Fox, when asked if the movie gets as sexy as it does scary and funny, offered: “Oh, this movie gets so sexy! You better put on your fuckin’ sexy shoes for this movie!” No, I don’t know what that means, either, but it’s better than the tagline Fox is using right now, so let’s run with it.