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Midnight Madness: 'Jennifer's Body'

September 11, 2009 | 10:52 am

It has become something of an unofficial tradition that the official opening night film at the Toronto International Film Festival be a self-serious, middlebrow bore -- this means you, "Creation" -- while the real pop-the-cork, get-this-party-started screening is the first show of the Midnight Madness section.

Thursday night saw the world premiere of "Jennifer's Body," a horror-comedy mash-up about a high school girl possessed by a demon after a virgin sacrifice goes awry, directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody. Before the screening there was bona-fide fan-demonium outside the Ryerson Theater as the crowd tried to catch a glimpse of "Transformers" star Megan Fox, who plays the title tole in "Jennifer's Body."

Introducing the film, Kusama ticked off the titles of films that served as inspiration, including "Carrie," "A Nightmare On Elm Street" and "Heathers," adding that "Jennifer's Body" is intended as a tribute to the "powers of estrogen."

Though "Jennifer's Body" is being sold largely on the hot media presence of Megan Fox, it is Amanda Seyfried as Jennifer's best friend Needy who gives the film its heart and soul. Surprisingly, for a film full of quick-witted quips and zinging cultural reference, Seyfried does her best work with simple glances, conveying confusion, affection, desire, surprise and rage without saying a word.

The film is on its surest footing when it uses its horror conventions as a window into the world of female friendship --- the dynamic in place between them was a problem long before one of them became possessed. Yet every time one of its obligatory set-pieces fires up, the film's rhythms stop dead. Based largely on the concept of "Megan Fox is sexy. And eats boys. No, really eats them," the gore scenes never really lift off.

The most  buoyant, freewheeling sequence in the film is actually a montage of photographs and videotape that plays during the end credits, depiciting the night Needy finally gets her revenge on the devil's own rock band. It has an off-the-cuff spontaneity, and the crime-scene style photos give it an unsettling creepiness missing from much of the rest of the film.

During the post-screening Q&A, actor Adam Brody -- who steals scenes as the lead singer of a wayward rock band -- revealed that the photo montage was something of a late addition to the film.

Fox showed she really knows how to work a room (and the phalanx of photographers), frequently turning and posing so the asymmetrical hem of her dress showed a maximum amount of bare thigh and dropping plenty of f-bombs.

Seyfried, by contrast, seemed flustered every time she was asked to answer a question and comically answered two separate questions with more or less identical answers. Asked what it was like to shoot her final, tussling battle with Fox, Seyfried noted, "I thought it was very difficult, but rewarding in the end." Fox added, "Amanda kind of gets a little method with the strangling."

To a shout from the crowd -- "Forget about the fight scene, how was the kiss?" -- Seyfried sheepishly responded, "I think it was also rewarding, and it was difficult but turned out OK."

Cody, sporting spiky blond hair, was in some ways the star of the show, as it seemed questions kept looping back to her. Her irreverent responses, including her take on teen sex in movies and an anecdote about wanting to best Burt Reynolds at being set on fire, showed that she too knows how to handle a crowd.

Asked if she had any thoughts on whether Needy might have more adventures as part of, say, a television series, Cody replied, "If this becomes enough of a success, I will willingly make fruit snacks. Kleenex, a television show, mineral makeup, whatever I might be encouraged to do by the studio. If this movie makes a lot of money look for children's toys, teething rings, I'm all for it."

When a question was posed to the cast as to what it was like to deliver dialogue in Cody's specific literary voice, all onstage became a bit tongue-tied as to how to answer the question. Kusama finsihed off the evening by noting, "This is why we have to have writers."

-- Mark Olsen