Jennifer's Body, or the Perils of Crossing AudiencesComplications Ensue
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Sunday, February 01, 2015

We watched JENNIFER'S BODY last night. Starring allegedly superhot Megan Fox and the radiant Amanda Seyfriend, this movie was marketed to the male horror film audience, and flopped.

It's actually a really intelligent, alarming movie. It adds nifty lore to the horror canon, and it is an insightful movie about a relationship. But the one thing it is not is a movie for young male horror fans who think Megan Fox is superhot.

JENNIFER'S BODY is a movie about frenemies. Amanda Seyfried is "Needy," the dorky childhood BFF of high school boy magnet Jennifer. (You can tell Needy is dorky, because she wears glasses. Only in Hollywood is the dorky girl played by Amanda Seyfried.) Then something happens to Jennifer, and Jennifer starts behaving, well, evil.

But they're still best friends, right? And Needy can't just give up her best friend forever, right? It is an insightful, brilliantly observed portrayal of a relationship. Sure, Jennifer may be evil, and super scary. But she still loves Needy. And Needy still loves Jennifer, to the point where people accuse them of being lovers. (They aren't. No wonder this flopped.) Which means there is a strong character/relationship reason why Needy can't Just Go to the Police.

(Every horror movie needs a good reason why the hero/ine can't just go to the police, whether it is Because She Is In a Cave, or Because There's Only One Way Out of the Valley, or Because They Are In a Simulation, or Because She Is A Wanted Criminal etc. Hopefully it is not Because the Police Don't Believe Him/Her, cuz that is boring and lame.)

You could consider this a movie about what happens when girls' urges for boys get in the way of their friendships. In a way, it's a horror take on Mean Girls. I think the best horror movies take something true about people's relationships and make it graphic and scary. They take something that would require a delicate novel to convey, and turn it into something you can watch in two hours and get it.

The movie also has fun inventing horror lore. Jennifer is not a vampire, and she's not a succubus in spite of the poster. She's something else.

In retrospect, it's easy to figure that boys were not going to recommend a chick movie about two childhood girlfriends torn apart by their attractions to boys. And girls were never going to go see a movie that claimed to be about Megan Fox being a sex demon.

A lot of beginning screenwriters figure that they can come up with something that mixes genres and get the audience for both genres. The reality is closer to only getting the intersection of the two genres: in this case, female horror fans. The genres are there for a reason.

The flip side is that, if you are marketing a movie that mixes genres, be up front about it. THE DESCENT did all right because it never suggested it was about anything but a bunch of women trapped in a cave system with some nasty critters. Based on the marketing, critics and viewers thought JENNIFER'S BODY was a terrible movie. Roger Ebert said it was "Twilight for Boys," entirely missing (I feel) the main thrust of the movie. Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie 42%.

Also, if you are making a movie that might confuse audiences, budget accordingly. The makers of THE DESCENT did not cast name actors. So the movie cost less to make, so "success" had a much lower threshold.  JENNIFER'S BODY actually grossed $16M in the domestic box office ($31M worldwide); but for a studio film, that's a horrible flop. THE DESCENT grossed $26M domestic, but for an indie film, that's a huge hit.


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