A teenage friendship is put to the test by Satan in a slumber party on “Jennifer’s Body” that lacks much of the bad bite of that cult classic.
A slumber party riff on “Jennifer’s Body” chewing on some of the same material without any of the bite of that cult classic, high school horror comedy “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” isn’t funny enough to get away with so few real fears, and it’s not scary enough to save most of his biggest laughs for the final act (where they’re laundered by one of the few male characters in this story about the effects of misogyny on female friendships).
But that alone isn’t enough of a reason to write off the year’s first Halloween candy flavor, which often takes advantage of the low expectations of direct-to-streaming content, and sometimes — in amusingly shocking ways — manages to make them. surpass. Whenever I was ready to dismiss this ’80s throwback as a piece of distinctly 21st century filler, Elsie Fisher would suddenly tap into my deepest teenage insecurities, yelling “Boy George’s power compels you!” attempting to chase a demon from another girl’s body, or step aside to reveal an Arrakis-sized tapeworm crawling out of a classmate’s mouth. That last effect, far too gross to tell how fake it looks, provides a fitting metaphor for a movie whose nightmarish teenage insecurities struggle to escape an undercooked story that just wants to fit on your Prime homepage.
As raw and believable here as she was in “Eightth Grade” (though the material is considerably less), Fisher plays Abby, a Jewish scholarship student at a posh Catholic school in one of those classic suburbs that helped invent slasher movies. Abby has bad skin and a bush of brown hair that she doesn’t quite know what to do with, but she also has the greatest best friend someone like her can imagine. Blonde, rich, and WASPy as hell, Gretchen (Amiah Miller, with flashes of a young Amanda Seyfried) would usually be the mean girl in a movie like this—a role Miller happily leans into after her character is possessed by one of Satan’s oldest legionnaires – but she rides or dies for her BFF Abby in a way neither of them takes for granted.
Whatever the flaws in Jenna Lamia’s script, which she adapted from horror fan Grady Hendrix’s novel of the same name, it’s crucial that it recognizes how rare it was to find such a mutually supportive friendship at a time when the culture was so determined to turn young girls against each other. (a magazine quiz Abby and Gretchen do together seems designed to make them jealous and paranoid). These girls hold hands at school—laughing at the daily barrage of gay jokes—speak pig Latin when no one is listening, and watch each other so protectively that other would-be outcasts are naturally drawn into their group of friends (including an Asian girl named Glee and a body-conscious black student named Margaret, played by Cathy Ang and Rachel Ogechi Kanu respectively).
Tiffany is the biggest thing that has happened to malls since the escalator, evangelical Christianity is creeping into the mainstream, and moral conservatism is so popular that anyone who even thinks of swimming against the tides is labeled a freak of nature. Director Damon Thomas only mounts a handful of jump scares, but it’s no surprise that the first (and most effective) of them all finds someone jumping at the camera wearing a Reagan mask. Needless to say, these girls need each other.
But everything begins to unravel when a night at Gretchen’s lake house ends with a weak LSD and – unbeknownst to anyone else – the host is possessed by a demon. Abby initially assumes Gretchen is mad at her for running away when things got chaotic (an argument that doesn’t carry nearly enough weight for all the emotions this movie asks of him), but her suspicions grow more serious as Gretchen’s symptoms worsen. Not only is her best friend suddenly cruel and surly, but she vomits across the table during lunch and refuses to take a shower, no matter how bad she smells.
Also, one of the cheap Christian bodybuilders who comes to perform at their school (“rise yourself before the lord!”) looks at Gretchen as if he has seen the devil himself. He’s played by “Glow” star Christopher Lowell — reliably funny despite getting in and out of a movie that confuses comedic lighting with tonal balance — and the fear Abby sees in his eyes is what eventually convinces her to become a supernatural explanation for what she does. had assumed they were the aftershocks of a sexual assault.
“My Best Friend’s Exorcism” fiddles with that transition almost as badly as the ultimate demon reveal, because the difficult scenes of Abby grappling with such genuine horrors aren’t backed up by a story that doesn’t have the courage to account for it. . A scene in which Gretchen describes her nighttime battle with the demon—which enters her bedroom, sits on her stomach, and finds its way into her skin—is as harrowing as it is out of place in a film that hints at some degree of trauma it would rather dilute than explore.
There’s something undeniably honest about the way Abby’s worries eat away at her friendships – nobody wants to give up their hard-won happiness – but there’s also something undeniably easy about the way “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” turns from rape rape to a series of antics on Regina George level (if the movies taught me anything it’s that you should never mess with protein bars or shakes some blond high school girl says she imported from Scandinavia). The film’s subject matter seems to set the table for some more relentless (and/or mature) coming-of-age scares, and the cast is certainly up for the challenge, but Lamia and Thomas let off the gas when it gets too heavy. becomes, use humor to undermine the horror where a more confident film could use it to grind its teeth.
And so things end with a third-act wail, complete with a Dobby-ass demon that wouldn’t scare a preschooler and an abnormal lack of emotional follow-up to any of the film’s various subplots. There are flashes of a much better movie in “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”, but the one we get is just not self-conscious enough to hold them for long.
“My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is now streaming on Prime Video.