A lightning storm of flashes goes off two feet from Megan Fox's face. Caught up in the assault is the rest of the creative team behind Jennifer's Body: producer Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody, actors Adam Brody, Amanda Seyfried and Johnny Simmons, and director Karyn Kusama.
"Red hat, Megan!" a photographer shouts.
"I can't see your red hat," Fox replies.
The assembled journalists laugh. The storm dies down. In a crowded Toronto hotel room, the press conference begins.
Jennifer's Body (see review)---which stars Fox as a botched sacrifice to Satan who eats teenage boys to survive, and opened the Midnight Madness section of this year's Toronto International Film Festival---appears to be a departure for Kusama, whose first film was the indie boxing drama Girlfight, and Cody, who won an Academy Award for her first screenplay, the quirky comedy Juno. Both women disagree.
"Horror films have a lot to do with adolescence," says Kusama. "They're a repository for all your childhood anxieties."
"I've loved horror movies my entire life," adds Cody. "Now being able to make a horror film is very delicious."
Cody wrote Jennifer's Body---named after a Hole song---right after Juno. "I had finished Juno and the ball was rolling on production, and I thought 'Now what? What would I wanna see?' I wrote this on spec, not knowing there would be any success with Juno. I couldn't have planned it as well."
For Fox, best known as a tabloid staple (and the girl in the Transformers franchise), it was a chance to play something more well-rounded than she's used to. "The scripts I was getting offered were not of this calibre," she says. "They were straight-to-DVD, your-wardrobe-is-a-bikini deals. I felt lucky to get to work in something Diablo was involved with."
Cody took a lot of heat for the language in Juno, but if you watch her television series, The United States of Tara---or even read her Entertainment Weekly column---it's clear that it's a style, not an affectation, and it continues in Jennifer's Body. ("He's salty." "Do you have a tampon? You look like you're plugging.")
"I don't find it that unusual," says Brody, who plays the eyelinered leader of the emo band that sacrifices Jennifer and knows from coining catchphrases thanks to his OC days. "The better something's written, the easier it is to say. It's when something's horrible that you have to wrack your brain to figure out what to say."
"The challenge is to make whatever they say sound real," says Kusama, sounding like she's as tired of this conversation as the rest of us. "Whether it's banal or operatic---Diablo's language has its own vernacular, but it's not theatre either."
It's not news that horror films---especially the last few years of humourless, exploitative hack work---don't traditionally care for the ladies. So for two women to put a horror movie together, that stars two women---one in the villain role, the other in the victim/hero mold---about a monster that eats men doesn't just fly in the face of convention, it rips its guts out.
Fox, who caused controversy earlier this year for slagging her Transformers director Michael Bay, enjoyed the filmmaking experience more than usual, because "it's different working for a woman. She's much much more sensitive to how I might be feeling on a moment-to-moment basis, which is a very bizarre feeling. I'm not used to that. But I feel like it was encouraged for us to be beautiful. Not in the sense that we have our hair extensions in, or that I have my tan on and need to be glowing all the time. We were real people in a real town, and we showed the beauty in that---real is beautiful. You don't have to look like an airbrushed Cosmopolitan cover all the time to be attractive. And I didn't have to bend over a bike, which was nice."
Kusama sees it more as social commentary than straight-up feminism. "The social idea of the Queen Bee is very real," she says. "There are girls who understand their power better than others. This riffs on Mean Girls, Heathers and Clueless, but accesses the tyranny."
"There's nothing scarier than a bitch," Cody says bluntly. "The Bitch should take her place in the catalogue of horror villains: Dracula, Frankenstein, Bitch."