Director Karyn Kusama on Jennifer's Body, Megan Fox and the 'Crisis of Being Looked At'


Karyn Kusama has occupied the director's chair on both sides of the mainstream filmmaking spectrum, from the microbudget Sundance darling Girlfight to the poorly received, big-budget anime adaptation Aeon Flux. She settles somewhere between the two tomorrow with Jennifer's Body, the breathlessly anticipated Megan Fox horror comedy that premiered to mixed reactions (including my own thumbs-up) last week in Toronto. The filmmaker sat down for drinks with Movieline on the final day of her Canadian marathon, elaborating on contemporary criticism, feminine monsters, guiding her young stars and what you might see on the Jennifer's Body director's-cut DVD.

So how's your festival going?

I think my thing is that I haven't slept in three days, so I'm like, "Whew!" I'm so tired. I think I miss my kid. He's two and a half. He's doing great; he's with his grandma and nanny, but I just miss him. But I'm good! I'm good. I think inevitably these kinds of movies have to absorb some blows from the kind of people who would never get it or never necessarily like this kind of movie. It also has its rabid fans. So that's been interesting to witness.

It does seem to be a polarizing film, which is interesting. You don't generally get that with this genre -- not that it's a straight genre film.

Not at all.

How much have you invested in the reaction?

I don't invest that much in it, to be honest. I generally feel pretty disappointed by the critical community. I feel like the nature of discourse in terms of actual critical thinking is not particularly rich. Maybe that's because I spent a lot more time reading critics from the past who I felt had strong opinions that were measured and considered responses to movies, no matter what they were. They didn't necessarily bring a hidden agenda to the proceedings. And sometimes I feel like when that enters the picture, I resent it on behalf of any filmmaker. Of course you resent it a little bit more if it's your movie. But ultimately I feel like the movie will find its audience and the people it's speaking to. It spoke to me. I felt so connected to the material, and I felt like this is the kind of movie I would have been just so excited to see if was 18 again. Really, if I was 14 again, but just the f*cked-up nature of the MPAA makes it if I was 17 again. But there's something about the heightened and theatrical logic of this movie that to me feels very real and relatable. Maybe it's polarizing because to some people it's not relatable. I get that. That's fine.

But it's a totally revisionist horror film. It's very postmodern. People aren't prepared to reconcile their expectations with the reality.

Yes, I agree.

How did that appeal to the director -- as opposed to the 17-year-old -- in you?

I read it several times before I decided to do it; it's not a "safe" choice, this script. I had to consider the different things that excited me about it. I had to think about all the things that presented obstacles and incredible opportunities in the script. For me, I didn't look at it initially as that revisionist text; I saw it very much as a relationship movie. And the more I thought about it in the context of the films I felt influenced by, I did realize that it was chock full of reversals of certain ideas. For me, one of the most interesting ideas in the movie is that the monster is female, but the villain is male. It's her victimization that creates a monster. And that says a lot to me about femininity. That was an interesting idea. I thought that her shadow self -- Needy -- having to self-actualize and become a separate and independent human from Jennifer... I relate to that story. I know that the narrative tropes around it are very outrageous, but the simple story below all that is very basic and fundamentally satisfying-- for me.

I've been asked countless times, "Why are you drawn to horror films? Why do you think women are drawn to horror films?" And it's because in a way, it's one of the few genres that tells it like it is. A lot of times, women do feel like they're running for their lives somehow. It's really visceral, and enclosed in the genre blueprint. The emotion of it is very real. So what was interesting to me was that you could play with this fight for survival from both Jennifer's point of view and Needy's point of view. And all of that could still be punctuated with moments of discombobulating humor. I think it's a crazy movie. I read it and I thought, "This movie doesn't feel like other movies to me. I don't know what this movie is." And I felt like that's incredibly unique.

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  • np says:

    Great interview. I'm trying not to have too many expectations going into this film, as the reviews seem to be allllll over the place.

  • SunnydaZe says:

    Maybe it's time to start liking Megan Fox? Maybe even champion her? She seems to be a Stone Rose in a garden of Fragile Flowers. . .

  • Dave says:

    Listening to this broad go on and on about tropes and continuums and crudités, no wonder movies suck today. It's a horror movie, for God's sake--the protagonist is put under a spell and eats high school boys!
    It ain't "Chinatown."
    Have you ever heard of anyone--let alone someone with Kusama's meager track record--be so completely full of herself? My favorite lines is when she volunteers that she "literally ate bagged popcorn." Wow, just like regular folks!
    If this film is a hit, it will be for one reason only: Guys like looking at Megan Fox. How's that for critical thinking?

  • calraigh says:

    Lemme guess Dave, first in line for Transformers were we?
    The reason movies ''suck'' today is because people such as yourself like bagging on ''broads'' who have the audacity to put a bit of thought into their creative process. People such as yourself who think a sufficient rationale for a film's basis is '' Guys like looking at Megan Fox''.
    Oh, and when exactly was the last time you actually ate that plebeian staple, bagged popcorn? Are you kidding me?!

  • Broomstick says:

    oh nice, "broad"? You can't even refer to Ms. Kusama by her last name, can you? Why should anyone bother to listen to your opinion, you sexist pig?

  • SunnydaZe says:

    CALRAIGH!! How is the grave digging going? As for Dave, you have to forgive him> His balls just dropped.

  • Dave says:

    To clear up a few points for anyone so bored as to spend their time reading these posts (which obviously includes me):
    I apologize for using the word "broad," which is sexist and outdated.
    I meant to replace that word before submitting, and I overlooked it.
    I did, however, use the director's last name when referring to "Kusama's meager track record."
    I have not seen either Transformers film. I understand that they concerned robots blowing things up. Yawn.
    The phrase "bagged popcorn" sounded a bit affected to me. I assume it refers to either microwave popcorn (of which I am a huge fan) or pre-popped corn sold in grocery stores (which I find a bit bland). If I am considered "plebeian" for eating it, I don't have a problem with that description. It's Lady Kusama that felt it necessary to point out that she and her colleagues had deigned to eat it. (With a side of crudités, of course.)
    Now let me see, Calraigh, if I understand your points: 1) Movies suck because people (like me) express their disdain for filmmakers whose opinion of themselves is so inflated that they equate making a high-school horror film with existential philosophy. And 2)You believe that Megan Fox's abundant physical beauty is NOT the reason for the publicity surrounding this movie. And when exactly was the last time you heard folks in line at Safeway buzzing about "the latest Kusama film"?

  • brianhawksghost says:

    Karyn is a very down to earth person, she's just trying to make Hollywood a better place for women to be in which it ain't.

  • calraigh says:

    My point is, ''Dave'', if that is, in fact, your real name, that you're so far up your own arse it'd probably take eating an entire box of microwave popcorn, a giant sack of pre-popped corn and large troughs of unrefined cruditès in order to further your passage out of it.
    Make a film, have at it. When your opus is headlining festivals and getting gobshites like ourselves slinging idiocy in comments sections, come back to us and talk about filmmakers being ''pretentious''.
    Until then , stick to categorizing processed maize. You're pretty good at it, all told.

  • "Dave" says:

    Did not realize that making a movie was a prerequisite for commenting on one. This rule is going to put a lot of people out of work, not to mention all of us laymen who like to bitch about things we can't do. What about sports? I can't play baseball; am I permitted to complain about the Mets?
    "Gobshites"? You've lost me there. I do know what it means, but what's it got to do with commenting on bad movies? I haven't called you any names or inferred anything about your personal life.
    And what's the deal about popcorn? I like it. A lot of people do. Why all the abuse? I'm not angry at you, and it doesn't change my life one way or the other if you're angry at me, but...sheesh.
    My name is actually David. I feel so embarrassed, thinking I could get away with the deception.