(This review discusses these two movies in great detail. )
There are two things that need to be said about Whiteout. First, it is based on a comic book. Second, it sat on the shelf for two years.
Whiteout is based on the graphic novel by mystery-novelist-turned-comic-writer Greg Rucka and award winning illustrator Steve Lieber. Once the movie was made, however, with Dominic Sena (Swordfish, Kalifornia) directing and four writers – Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes, and Carey W. Hayes – as the credited adaptors, the studio, Warner, shelved the film for two years when shooting ceased in 2007. Thus there is a certain youthful freshness to the face of lead actress Kate Beckinsale, as Carrie Stetko, a U. S. Marshall assigned to the American scientific station at the South Pole, which is about to close for its six-months-of-night hiatus. At the last minute, a corpse turns up out in the ice, which undoes a carefully orchestrated crime scheme by some of the residents. Stetko solves the crime but at the cost of being isolated at the base for six months.
Whiteout has many of the basics of the mystery thriller genre as we have come to know it in the last few years. There is a deadline that frames the action and squeezes it into a set amount of hours, in this case the sun going down. The main cop has a troubled past (she was betrayed by a partner), which she is trying to get over (the television series Warehouse 13 has a similar premise with its female investigator). There is an interloping federal agent who is a high profile suspect, numerous suspicious co-workers, and several set pieces, among them an ax-chase and a fight in the middle of a snow storm. The movie also evokes with Alien by having Tom Skerritt play the part of a kindly old retiring doctor.
Unfortunately, the movie is as inert as the wintry terrain in which it is set. The heroine is blurrily sketched, and unappealing, and we don’t see why she is still fretting over a justified shooting in her past. The co-workers and the villains all look the same. The action sequences are hard to follow. And when the mystery is “solved,” it seems so trivial in relation to the labors endured to get you there.
Each new comic book adaptation disappoints in a different. The problem with Whiteout is that the source isn’t all that interesting to begin with. It’s fairly conventional mystery material in a “unique” setting, and the changes made in the transfer to the screen (making Stetko less hard looking) only make the film even more conventional.
Jennifer’s Body is much more effective. I didn’t expect to like it, but it proved to be a much more charming and entertaining variation on the teen horror movie than anticipated.
The Oscar and Emmy winning screenwriter of the film, Diablo Cody, is the new Tarantino, a screenwriter poised to take over the town and inspire a clutch of fanatic followers. She has a column in Entertainment Weekly and a Showtime TV show and also helped produced Jennifer’s Body. But though she has the image of a tattooed hard drinking rebel there is a conservative steak to her work. The EW column thus far has been a self-glorifying journey through the nostalgia of her childhood interests, and the career making Juno was at heart a conservative vision of maternity. On the other hand, no major motion picture or TV series these days can endorse abortion. The dominant culture somehow demands that decry abortion, probably for fear of a backlash. As Nabokov said in an afterword to Lolita, no American work of fiction will ever concern itself with happy incest, an atheist who dies contented in his sleep, or a fruitful interracial marriage. He could have added to the list a tale about a successful, problem-clearing, and life-saving abortion (though Third Watch tried at the start of its second season).
Having taken on unwed pregnancies in Juno, here in Jennifer’s Body Cody conceives a tale about eating disorders. Of course the subject matter is coded. Jennifer (Megan Fox) is possessed by a demon and consumes the entrails of high school classmates susceptible to her human charms.
The only person standing between Jennifer and Hell on Earth is Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried). If Jennifer is the school’s designated hot girl. Needy is its class nerd. Yet Jennifer uncharacteristically loves her as much as the audience loves Needy, with her complex adoration of Jennifer and her glasses and eccentric clothes and her big man’s sports watch (when she finally has sex with her boyfriend – being a girl nerd Needy gets to have a boyfriend – her watch is the only thing she doesn’t take off, an erotic dream come true for some of us). But also her competence and bravery. In the old days – well, at least the 1950s – women in horror and science fiction were reduced to tears and faints by the threat of violation. Today they fight back. It is a form of progress.
Here’s what happens. Needy goes with Jennifer to Devil’s Kettle’s only music club, The Carousel. Jennifer has a groupie-ish fixation on the band Low Shoulder, led by Nikolai Wolf (TV’s Adam Brody). Though Jennifer is hot for sex with anyone from the band, the group at first considers Needy, but Wolf, drawing upon his own small town wisdom, asserts that Jennifer is more likely to be a virgin. The band, it turns out, needs a virgin for a sacrificial rite of appeasment to the devil so that they can rise to success, like John Cassavetes in Rosemary’s Baby. This plays into a pet theory of mine – that all Hollywood celebrities have sold their souls to Satan. How else to explain the rise of such stars as Sylvester Stallone from mere extras in films like Bananas to writer-star of Rocky?
In any case, the procedure goes awry – it turns out that Jennifer is not a virgin. As a consequence, as Needy learns when she researches the topic in the school library, Jennifer has become some kind of portal for a demon on earth, a demon with a hunger for human flesh. When Jennifer zeros in on Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), a line is drawn between the two lifelong friends.
The film ends on note of Kill Bill-like tragedy. Institutionalized (and we know this from the opening scene), Needy now lives with the secret knowledge that she saved Devil’s Kettle. Normally, a movie like this would end with her behind bars, but Cody has a few more cards to play. Needy escapes, and hitchhikes away, driven past a highway warning sign that reads Low Shoulder. But the movie doesn’t end there, either. In a terrific end credit sequence we see the results when Needy, who has been changed forever and will remain an outcast, finally catches up with the suddenly popular rock band (apparently they didn’t need the sacrifice in the first place). This is a wonderfully poignant ending, deeper and more evocative and more truly tragic than a typical horror film.
Cody also cunningly plays with eating disorder issues in the tale, but it is so coded you might not notice. Consumption is a running theme of the film, be it liquor by underage kids or tomorrow’s uncooked meat dragged right out of the fridge. Will teenage girls make the connection? Jennifer gains strength by eating; she is weakest when she is underfed by going too many hours without killing a boy. This mirrors mere biology, but in the eating disorder mentality the opposite is true. Strength comes from starvation, thinness, denial. You could argue that the movie subtly endorses under-eating, since Jennifer becomes a demon. But in the newly mixed up psychology of Needy, the satisfaction of hunger is a positive force.
The film is also an exploration of the complexities of female friendship, disguised as a horror film. Why does Jennifer take on Needy as a friend? For one thing, she is the only other sharp person in the school. Keep your friends close, but your potential enemies – or lesbian lovers – closer. The tension underlying Jennifer’s friendship with Needy is shown in a quick moment when Jennifer pushes Needy playfully up against a door. She does it way too hard. The complexity of Needy’s affection for Jennifer is revealed in a strange spectrum of emotions on her face as she watches Jennifer while Low Shoulder plays.
Jennifer’s Body is not quite as fun as you want it to be, and it doesn’t reach the heights of insight of earlier teen girl friendship movies such as The World of Henry Orient, Thirteen, Havoc, Haven, My Summer of Love, and Don’t Deliver Us from Evil, but it certainly makes some new and interesting points. As Jennifer says about Needy, her childhood friend, “Sandbox love never dies.”
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