My notes on the 2009 horror film.Anita Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried), whose on-the-nose nickname is ‘Needy’, sits in a bleak cell in an asylum (which looks like a set from a Tim Burton cartoon rather than a credible location, establishing the film’s fairytale horror Americana) after kungfu-kicking a sympathetic black lady doctor in the face for suggesting she eat a more balanced diet – and narrates the story of how she came to be locked away. A few weeks earlier, in the nowherseville town of Devil’s Kettle, Minn., Needy was the BFF gal-pal of school bombshell Jennifer Check (Megan ‘Her out of Transformers’ Fox) and conducting herself in traditional bespectacled tagalong worshipper style around her cheerleader idol (‘sandbox love lasts forever’). Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) has a knack for catching exact teen sociology details, even if her love for quotably reference-littered teen talk is Daniel Waters (Heathers) crossed with Tarantino: the most striking note here is that meek, supposedly mousy Needy (yes, Seyfried is a blonde goddess with glasses) isn’t a virgin wallflower but has a boyfriend, band geek Chip (Johnny Simmons), and is actually sleeping with him. However, because she’s in a steady relationship with a high school contemporary, she seems tame next to the slinky Jennifer, who doesn’t have a regular guy but does have an active sex life with older horndogs (like a police cadet).
Jennifer drags Needy to a bar where ‘cool band’ Low Shoulder are playing, only to be swept into a minivan by the indie rock Satanists after a fire has broken out and burned down the bar (incidentally killing a bunch of people). Later that night, Jen shows up at Needy’s place covered in blood and vomits black, CGI-spiky oil on the floor like an X-File with PMS (a phenomenon Jennifer describes as a myth created by ‘the boy-controlled media’). It’s not confirmed by a flashback-within-a-flashback for a reel or so, but the premise is hardly a mystery: the band, eager to make it big in the business, planned to sacrifice a virgin in the woods and the overconfident lead singer Nikolai (Adam Brody) mistakenly picked out slut Jennifer instead. The victim survived the ritual to be transformed or possessed into a demon girl who needs to rip the life out of guys (and perhaps girls) to stay looking like a teen pin-up (as opposed to ‘an ordinary girl’). There isn’t much character change, since Jennifer was a callous, self-involved bitch even before becoming a demon – which means the friends-fall-out aspect of the movie doesn’t cut as deeply as it might if there were even a few hints that Jennifer might once have at least appreciated Needy as more than a sidekick-cum-slave. Of course, the demon Jen shows peculiar malice in targeting guys Needy likes, with the boyfriend as her ultimate snack goal (Chip is another on-the-nose name, since he’s a bargaining token or a symbolic prize).
Whereas Heathers was an incisive, zeitgeist-skewering portrait of teenage America played as black comedy, this is just a zippy gun horror movie with some smart lines and a few footnotes. Low Shoulder become a success with a horrible song (‘Through the Trees’) which becomes associated with the burned-down-bar tragedy and subsequent Devil’s Kettle deaths, only to get their just desserts in a montage sequence that plays under the end credits (actually, the funniest, most aptly horrible scene in the film). The climax is an unholy bitch-fight set on the night of the big formal, which has had a Carrie-like set-up but quickly segues into Needy and Jennifer in bombshell outfits ripping each other up in a picturesque derelict swimming pool. Here, director Karyn Kusama recovers some of the Girlfight chops she lost in Aeon Flux (even the publicity notes can’t get away with calling that a ‘cult film’) to deliver Raimi-style kinetic/disgusting horror action. There’s a mainstreaminess to the film that makes it work as slightly demanding entertainment, but perhaps keeps it from fully engaging with its subject matter the way that scruffier indies like Ginger Snaps or Teeth do.