How to Sacrifice a Virgin
Diablo Cody shot to fame very quickly in 2009. Having worked as a stripper before becoming a screenwriter, she shot to stardom when her first big screenplay, Juno, became an indie-comedy blockbuster. Produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures on a svelte $7.5 Mil budget, tiny for any production in 2009, the film made a absolutely astonishing $231.4 Mil at the Box Office. it launched the career of not only Cody but also lead star Elliot Page (formerly, at the time of the film's release, Ellen Page before he came out as trans). There were high hopes for Cody's next screenplay, with much of the success for Juno attributed to Cody's singular voice as a screenwriter.
There was also, however, a strong backlash to the writer as well. The way she had her characters speak, which had its own vernacular that was specific to the writer, a mix of phrases, slang, and weirdo vibes, struck a chord with many, but also made others angry. Or it was just that some people (nascent MRA dudes) hated that a strong female screenwriter was writing strong female characters, and the Online backlash grew from that. Whatever the case, for a certain segment, Diablo Cody was the Devil. She who should not be named.
The backlash certainly hurt her follow up, Jennifer's Body. It shouldn't have, but production company Fox Atomic made the decision to market the film towards teenage and twenty-something boys. They played up the aspects that the men in the audience would like -- the sexiness of lead actress Megan Fox, some lesbian moments in the film, and a lot of the horror -- which sold the film to an audiences that really wouldn't get the other side of the equation, the female empowerment story. It's a horror film, sure, but one filtered strongly through the female perspective. It's a Diablo Cody film and, frankly, Fox Atomic really dropped the ball.
The film is focused on two characters: hot girl Jennifer (Megan Fox) and nerdy girl Anita "Needy" Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried). Jennifer and Needy have been friends since grade school, playing on the playground, having sleepovers, and doing all the things little girls do as they grow up and remain best friends. In high school, Jennifer is the sexually active predator, going from one boy to another without a care in the world. Needy, meanwhile, has one guy, her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), but really, the central figure of her life is Jennifer. When Jennifer says they're doing something. Needy always finds herself along for the ride, bent to Jennifer's whims.
Things take a turn one night when Jennifer drags Needy to a local bar so they can see a band she's been Online stalking, Low Shoulder. The lead singer, Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody), is, as Jennifer puts it, "salty", and she'd love nothing more than to hook up with him. A sudden fire at the bar during their opening number sends people fleeing from the building. The band offers a ride to Jennifer and Needy, but Needy finds the group creepy. Jennifer eagerly accepts and Needy watches as her friend rides off with the boys. Later that night, though, Jennifer shows up at Needy's house acting weird. Disturbing even. And then the killings start. Once a month or so, a boy ends up dead. Needy soon suspects it's Jennifer. Something happened with the band, something evil, and Jennifer came back wrong. Now her best friend is a monster, and the only one that can stop her is Needy, her one and only.
There's a lot going on in this film: comedy, horror, teenage angst and, yes, a little light lesbianism. But it's all filtered through the female perspective, building on female experiences. These are two very lived in characters, ones who have had a long life together and rely on each other. The film, above all else, is about two female best friends growing up, and growing apart. Sure, that's because, due to black magic, one of them is turned into a boy-eating Succubus, but that's just a metaphorical way to explore the way two friends can grow apart as their lives diverge.
Of course, what happens with Low Shoulder also explores a group of men making a woman do something against her will. In this specific case it's a Satanic sacrifice of a virgin (who isn't actually a virgin, which is part of the problem), but that is, again, a way of working some metaphor into the whole experience. Jennifer goes evil and it's Needy who gets the PTSD from the whole experience. The film plays on a lot of levels, if you're paying attention, but it does work best when pitching at the women in the audience.
Now, I am a dude, so I wasn't the primary audience for many of the themes of the film, but I will note that the film also works well as a more standard horror film. It's got blood and guts and some gnarly kills. There's a certain slasher aspect to the proceedings, but the film handles it in the reverse of the usual set up. Instead of a male stalker killing female co-eds, it's a Succubus taking down dudes. As a fan of horror movies I not only appreciated the inverted expectations but also the kills. The film knows how to handle its horror.
And it is funny. Diablo Cody has a solid grasp of her characters and the way they talk and she's able to mines some funny moments from them, not only from the way they talk but how the script sets up natural reactions to the fucked up things going on in the film. It's weird and sarcastic, poking fun at its own setup even as the film gets darker and darker. It rides that fine edge between horror comedy and outright parody without ever really going too far one way or the other. That's a skill, and the script has it.
Of course, a film with so many different things going on in it is hard to sell. I can understand why Fox Atomic decided to go the "sexy girl horror film" route. That's a pretty shallow interpretation of the movie, based in large part on how Megan Fox was presented in her movies at the time (see: Transformers). It's reductive, yes, but Hollywood has always struggled to advertise films with any kind of nuance to them. "Your film can't be this and this and that in the trailer, it has to be just one thing." So Fox settled on "Sexy Horror" and failed to garner the audience the film needed.
That's a pity because, frankly, everything about this film works really well. Seyfried and Fox deliver solid performances, using the script to give their characters the right depth and connection. They both have solid chemistry together, both as friends and, when the script calls for it, something more. In fact, the way the film portrays them you can feel the deeper connection between them just by how the actresses act. It's well done all around.
And, again, it's pretty good as a horror film. It works as a study of female friends, it works as a black comedy about black magic, and it works as horror. For her follow-up script, Cody pulled off quite the feat. sadly, audiences barely showed up and the film was lost at the Box Office, only making $31.6 Mil against a $16 Mil production budget (not quite enough to break even). Its sad, because this a smart, strong, fucked up little film that deserved better.
Still, the film has gone on to become a solid cult classic, finding it's audience in home video and streaming. Maybe the film never was going to be a hit, but it's good to know people have discovered it after the fact. It's a good movie that deserves more attention.