If past experience with horror movies has taught us anything, it’s usually that the longer the boogeyman is kept hidden in the shadows, the more terrifying the monster is. The mystery is key. Cloverfield, for instance, was a better movie before the creature was revealed. M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs completely fell apart once we got sight of the aliens. Advancements in technology and CGI effects can work to a degree, but nothing is as singularly frightening as the images we conjure in our own imagination.
Except Jennifer Lopez.
Director Alan Poul, who is new to the horror genre, plays to his creature’s strength. He takes it out from behind the shadows and focuses harsh lights on it. The result is nothing less than terrifying. No mask could compete. Horror movies have seen their fair share of effective boogeyman — Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, Jason Voorhies, Leatherface, Michael Myers, and even the Gwoemul from The Host — but, by far, the pants-crappingly scariest has to be Jennifer Lopez, who will surely haunt many a nightmare for years to come.
In the strangely titled Back-Up Plan, Poul opens the movie with the disturbing close up of The JLo’s feet. The monster contemplates why it hadn’t had its toenails properly shorn while a medical professional inserts human semen inside the creature’s cervix, foreshadowing that the worst is yet to come in the form of half-human, half-monster babies that will surely ooze out of the beast’s uterus later in the movie and terrorize the planet Earth. But before this miscreation can birth these hellions, it must find a mate. The implicit suggestion here is that, before this savage mutant can give birth, it must suck the life force out of an Earthling.
That Earthling is Stan, played by Alex O’Loughlin (the poor man’s rom-com Gerard Butler), who has so little life force that it hardly seems worth the effort for The JLo. Nevertheless, it makes first contact with Stan in a cab, during a rainstorm (the rain increases the leviathan’s power, I believe), and afterward, The JLo demon lumbers around the city stalking this poor, stubbled human, later convincing it through the sheer power of its menace to partner with it. Rather than risk certain death by annihilation, Stan succumbs, agreeing to be the de-facto father to the semi-artificially created beasties.
During The JLo’s gestation period, the creature inflicts its voracious sexual appetite on Stan while ingesting all matter of digestibles, often with its bare hands, all the while preying upon pregnancy stereotypes (there’s definitely an allegory buried beneath this creature feature). At other times, the deformed abnormality expelled its vomitus as if to mark its territory. There are, however, moments when it appears that Stan will be able to flee, but the troglodyte has a hold over Stan’s soul, rendering him incapable of flight.
The Back-Up Plan is a haunting experience, and one that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. I had to avert my eyes on several occasions, particularly during The JLo’s feasting sessions, when I tucked my head between my knees and prayed for sweet release. As the movie progressed, the lusus naturae continued to expand, priming itself for what was sure to be a horrifying finale. In the end, however, I could no longer stomach the proceedings, knowing that, perhaps, The JLo would eventually eat its own possibly stillborn spawn before turning on poor Stan and hoovering him into its maw and snacking upon his crunching bones. I simply do not have a strong enough constitution for that level of cruel atrocity. I am therefore only recommending The Back-Up Plan to only the most fiendish of horror hounds. My suspicion is that, after watching The Back-Up Plan, even a movie like The Human Centipede will feel like the sweet calls of a cuckoo in the morning.
(Publisher’s Note: Though it was the publicity still (above) that inspired the approach to this review, it has come to my attention that Josh Tyler over on Cinemablend took a similar approach in his review (apparently, the JLo as a Monster is a common belief). I’m sufficiently embarrassed, and encourage you to also check out Josh’s review.)