Part #2 of the The Great Shock-A-Thon of 2016 

“Movie Night!” I screamed at the top of my lungs to my partner Emily Milling.

I turned off the lights, except for the kitchen one because one of us finds the complete darkness too scary, and settled in on the couch for a night of spooky scares.

“Lets watch the movies that have sitting on the edge of the TV for months!” I said. The Blu-Rays had moved around the room like ninjas, never jumping back to the shelves, because all they wanted was to be watched. I have a bout a hundred of those lying around.

It was finally time for two films to be sacrificed to the gods of entertainment.

JENNIFER’S BODY (2009) 

 

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I really disliked Jennifer’s Body the first time I saw it. I found the its pacing sluggish, its scares non-existent and the Diablo Cody scripted dialogue literally painful to experience. The story of two best friends who have a rift after one of them gets demon processed and starts eating people could be fun, but the film never exploited it in a way that excited me.

I decided to revisit the film after Director Karyn Kusama’s film THE INVITATION blew my socks off. Maybe I had misread Jennifer’s Body the first time? Maybe I had been blinded by my expectations, and now that I could put aside, I could enjoy the film for what it actually was.

Well, it still had all the bad stuff I remembered. There’s a lack of momentum, the verbal zingers are lame, and the set-pieces have some fun energy to them, but they never really come together.

Yet, this time around, some positives rose to the surface. I was originally annoyed that the Megan Fox character was a jerk from the get go, so when she did become demonized, there wasn’t a big difference between both versions that her best friend ( Amanda Seyfried) once knew – but the film is totally aware of that fact. The story isn’t about a friend becoming evil, it’s about someone realizing that their best friend was always a jerk. It’s not about the gory act of violence, but it’s aftermath. There’s a reason we see a bunch of funerals in the film. The filmmakers want the viewer to be ware of the repercussions of violence. It’s easy to make a victims unlikable jerks so an audience can cheer when they bite the big one, but this goes out of it’s way to make the demon chow people, and while the film never fleshes out the majority of them (Where’d Chris Pratt go!?), the few that are given a few moments are sympathetic enough that you don’t want to see them get chomped.

The film is in constant struggle between two stories- one about friendship and loss – and the other about a sassy succubus killing people with lame one liners. The stuff that’s played real reverberates in way that I wasn’t expecting it too, while the comedy stops things in its tracks. There’s a death later in the film that’s played so straight, it’s almost sobering, and it really worked on me. It’s just the construction that hobbles the film. Just take the endings for example – there’s three of them! Each of them work a little, and if they had been compressed into one scene, they could have really hit a home run, but separated they ring a little hollow and don’t work.

There’s an interesting film in Jennifer’s Body, but sometimes you have to squint to see it.

***

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

 

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I didn’t like the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT the first time I saw it (This seems to be the night’s theme) I didn’t like it’s total lack of scares, invisible monster and baffling non-ending. I have to note that by the time I finally saw it, the sheen had worn off on the property. I didn’t see it in theaters, I didn’t see it with friends, and I was highly aware that it was all a bit of trickery by two films students. After that first viewing, I just put it aside and never felt any need to revisit it.

Watching it again today, I was surprised at how little I remembered about it. The film making craft on display is actually very concise. I enjoyed the way it switched from B& W 16mm to grainy hi-8 video, and while the film doesn’t deal very much with supernatural going-ons, it is interested in the devolution of a group. I very much appreciated the way that the creeping panic can get high intensity before dropping to a low simmer at the drop of a hat, and it’s not a major breakdown, but a small series of them that really shatter ones grip on sanity.

Beyond the great first act, and mounting second one, the film really didn’t do much for me. There’s a heavy shadow that hangs over the film when you realize that no scares are going to be coming, which makes a lot of what comes as it slowly ambles toward its ending a bit of a chore to sit through. I’m not saying that I needed a ten foot tall witch to come shambling out of the forest, but I did need a third act that threw in some variety in what was going. I can see why it was so popular, as it’s presentation allows the viewer to imprint their deepest fears in the darkness, but as I sat in my living room watching it, it just never connected in the way that I really hoped it would. It remained an artificat I couldn’t connect with.

I gotta be honest. I watched BLAIR WITCH 2 a few weeks ago, and I probably enjoyed that film’s bats hit insanity a little more.

 

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