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Jennifer's Body

Cultural allusions combined with wordplay both juvenile and sophisticated? We must be back in Diablo Codyland, a place still as fresh and fun as Kevin Smithburg was almost twenty years ago. It's a nice town to visit, overpopulated with snarky teens that still feel real and basically decent, except for that one that's been possessed by a demon and periodically has to feed on human flesh and blood.

Yes, we finally have the much-hyped follow-up to Juno, Jennifer's Body, directed by Karyn Kusama and starring (sort of) Megan Fox. With this script, Cody proves she's not a one-hit wonder, and more impressively, she can stride across genres.

As much about the real horrors of high school and girl friendships as it is about gore, Jennifer's Body turns out to be a real surprise - a smart horror film in which nobody acts particularly stupid, just believably hormonal. And if you've been to a high school lately, that can be scary enough.

The film focuses on a deadly friendship. Anita "Needy" Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) has been the proverbial BFF of Jennifer Check (Fox) since they were small children in the sandbox. Growing up in a small town, their opportunities may have been few, except for Jennifer.

Impossibly hot - she is, after all, played by Megan Fox - Jennifer has worked her way through the dating pool and then some. So when an indie band comes to play a club outside of town, Jennifer studies their MySpace page to become a groupie. One tiny thing they left off of their basic info, though, was their willingness to sacrifice anything for fame - in particular a small-town virgin in order to gain the blessings of a demon.

The circumstances of the sacrifice are blurred for a while, but how it happens plays out with a gruesome humor and a dead-on accurate shot at how people willingly fool themselves. Led by heavily eye-lined singer Nikolai Wolf (a really funny and disturbing Adam Brody), the band Low Shoulder becomes a national sensation and unlikely unknowing spiritual leaders to the teens of Devil's Kettle.

In the wake of the band's botched sacrifice, Jennifer turns into something akin to a succubus, instilling boys with lust and fear before eviscerating them. If she hasn't fed in a while, she turns ugly. Well, "…ugly for her," as Needy tries to explain to her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).

Of course, a weakened Jennifer is still ridiculously attractive, and that's part of the joke of the movie and the pain of high school life. The cheerleader never really gets exposed as being as insecure as everyone else. Even at her lowest, she still seems perfect to those who consider themselves less than.

The barbs and observations stay sharp throughout, though maybe not as sharp as the performances from Seyfried and, yes, Fox. It may not be a stretch to just go ahead and play as shallow and venal as half the country thinks you are anyway, but it's a rare actress willing to embrace it so fully so soon in her career. It's a funny and scary performance, in which Fox manages to show a lot of the monster without benefit of any special effects.

That's a tribute to Kusama's skill as a director. It could be easy to let Cody's dialogue overwhelm the movie, but Kusama keeps a firm hand as a storyteller. Despite snappy dialogue, the movie has long stretches of doing what a horror show should do - build tension through silence, and letting a picture speak a thousand words.

To some extent, that includes letting some great character actors bob throughout the movie. J.K. Simmons shows up as apparently the only teacher on campus, wearing wispy curls and a hook for a hand. When did Diablo Cody meet my junior high band teacher? The great Amy Sedaris slides through a few scenes as Needy's mom, well-meaning but too busy just trying to earn a living to pay much attention to what's going on in her daughter's life.

Despite it's enjoyability, Jennifer's Body isn't quite a perfect movie. It does have a tendency to use unlikely small-town geography almost as a deus ex machina. Whatever landscape the characters need to have for a scene seems too convenient to be true. Ultimately, that includes the mystery of the town's namesake, the Devil's Kettle, itself. But the sense of having to get all your needs from a Super Target because that's all there is, that rings awfully true.

Jennifer's Body ends up being sexy and scary, a nice little treat before we roll into October, and I suspect a staple of slumber party DVD viewings for years to come.

Derek McCaw

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