Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nothing But A Series of Bad Decisions: JENIFER [Argento-thon]

Masters of Horror: Jenifer (2005)
Director: Dario Argento
Seen via: Anchor Bay DVD (R1)
Rating: 4 / 10

After dabbling in the realm of the made-for-TV movie with the relatively pedestrian Do You Like Hitchcock?, Dario Argento returned to the short-form TV format with two contributions to Showtime's Masters of Horror series. Argento's own brief-lived horror show Door Into Darkness had met with relative success in his native Italy in the 70s, but he stuck to feature films throughout the next several decades. Argento's films had been getting increasingly gory, and this is no exception. But rather than focus primarily on the bloodletting, Jenifer (as well as Argento's MoH follow-up, Pelts) concerns itself with desire and features some very disturbing sex scenes.

In short, Jenifer is the story of a cop named Frank and the series of awful life decisions he makes after saving a girl from being murdered. This girl, Jenifer, is an odd one to say the least. In addition to having a severe facial deformity and solid black eyes, she's unable to speak. Frank's sent to a police psychiatrist after murdering the man who was attacking Jenifer, but he insists he's fine, except for a nasty little cut on his hand that he sustained in the rescue. But as the wound begins festering, Frank's mind quickly dissolves into a writhing mess of idiocy. I believe this is what we call a metaphor. Either that, or Frank really has a brain infection, because things get really, really, stupid.

After worrying she won't be taken care of properly at the station, Frank makes the awful decision to bring Jenifer home to temporarily live with his family. She thanks him by running around naked, terorrizing his wife, and eating his cat. Thank god his teenage son isn't bothered though - he responds to all this by saying "She's fucking awesome, and she's got a great rack. You know, for a Morlock." Add that to the list of phrases that I'll make sure to never to say in the presence of my parents.


If that's not enough, Jenifer attacks Frank's wife. His family, quite reasonably, moves out until he's willing to send Jenifer back to the station. Rather than agree to this perfectly understandable demand, Frank goes all out and has sex with Jenifer. It's all downhill from here. Jenifer's feral nature continues to manifest in increasingly violent instances as she kills and eats multiple people. Whoops - oh, yeah. Turns out she's a cannibal too. Frank, aware of this and fearing he'll be held responsible for the deaths, covers for her by dutifully burying the bodies. Eventually the couple flees to a cabin in the woods, where you can probably guess that things end poorly.

My main problem with Jenifer: the magnitude of Frank's idiocy. There may be something here that Argento was trying to say about the nature of addiction and Frank's acquiescence to his primal urges. The problem is that these things do not logically follow from what we know of Frank. I saw no motivation for his willingness to destroy his life and his family, other than that Jenifer is good in bed.

Her cooking needs a little work, though.
That said, Jenifer does a great job at being unsettling. It's not in any way subtle though, and it's a departure from Argento's previous work both stylistically and thematically. Not inherent problems, as it's clear that Argento at this point was attempting to evolve - this film just doesn't make a strong case for itself. That and the writing is downright bad. There's not a whole lot else to latch on to either. When I heard the first few "la, la, las" in the opening sequence I thought Claudio Simonetti was back in fully form, but this is no Deep Red. The majority of the score sounds indistinguishable from typical TV fare.

The Good

If disturbing is what you're after, Jenifer will certainly deliver. The gore effects are top-notch.

The Bad

Frank's motivations are unclear, the dialogue sucks, and at times this just seems like a showcase for monster sex.

Also, cat death is always a minus.


...the Hell?

Frank! You've watched her eat like two people! Stop it!


Stop it!

The Verdict

Skip this one. I can sum things up for you right here: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, especially when the good deed is followed by sex with a feral cannibal.

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