Written by Anna Harrison
You would be forgiven for assuming that Jennifer’s Body, written by Juno’s Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, is just your average slasher movie populated by attractive women in progressively skimpier clothing; after all, most of its advertising focused on titular Megan Fox’s sex appeal as the titular Jennifer, truly taking the title of Jennifer’s Body to heart and making it all about, well, Jennifer’s body. Fox’s stardom was still at its zenith, but it was all based on her appearance: whenever she tried to be anything other than a vapid sex symbol, the press vilified her, and so the marketing for Jennifer’s Body was all about sex, sex, and more sex in an attempt to appeal to the young men that frequented the horror genre.
When Jennifer’s Body turned out not to be, in fact, a sex romp through slasher territory, it fared poorly. Mediocre reviews, bad box office turnout, and online ridicule, often misogynistic in tone. But over a decade later, as the assessment of women in Hollywood has evolved, so have the views on Jennifer’s Body, and its gifs and quotes can be found regularly making the rounds on Twitter, often tweeted by the young women whom the original marketing campaign so obviously excluded.
Despite its horror elements, Jennifer’s Body is squarely aimed towards young women, using its genre to explore all the treacherous ups and downs of being a teenage girl. Needy (Amanda Seyfried), as her name suggests, clings to her best friend Jennifer, the hottest girl in school. When Jennifer suggests that they go to a bar to see the indie band Low Shoulder (whose frontman Nikolai is played by Adam Brody), Needy ditches her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), and goes with Jennifer. The bar catches fire, and Jennifer, in shock, gets led into Low Shoulder’s van over Needy’s protests; when Jennifer comes back, dripping in blood, she’s changed. She’s more callous, more demanding, and also likes to eat people, usually men.
Jennifer becomes a devilish seductress, tempting because of the danger she poses and the beauty she possesses, but this isn’t simply your classic succubus tale wherein the hot temptress gets killed as punishment for being a hot temptress—it’s much smarter than that. Jennifer reveals that Low Shoulder sacrificed her to Satan in order to find success (“Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days? There are so many of us, and we’re all so cute and it’s like if you don’t get on Letterman or some retarded soundtrack, you’re screwed, okay? Satan is our only hope,” Nikolai explains), but the sacrifice goes awry because Jennifer wasn’t a virgin. Suddenly her killings become part of a revenge fantasy: a group of men abuse Jennifer with a lighthearted airiness at odds with the muffled screams of Jennifer herself, and then she is immediately discarded as they climb the ladder of success. It’s a story particularly resonant for Hollywood in the post-#MeToo era.
It also in many ways parallels Fox’s own career. Everyone either wanted to fuck her or be her (or both), and when they couldn’t do either of those things, they turned hostile, so at the same time that Fox became lauded for her sexuality she was simultaneously punished because of it. Fox, like Jennifer, was left stranded for little more than being hot and a woman—a woman who, admittedly, often put her foot in her mouth. Her comments comparing Transformers director Michael Bay to Hitler got her fired from the third entry in the franchise, with Steven Spielberg calling for Michael Bay to fire Fox. At the time, public opinion sided with Spielberg and Bay; now, it seems to have become a bit more nuanced: Spielberg, himself Jewish, deemed her behavior unacceptable, and while that is and should remain important, the media has been more forgiving to Fox as of late, considering that Transformers spends all of her screentime ogling her legs, her stomach, her breasts, her ass, and Bay, over twenty years her senior, had all the power on the film sets (the two have since made up). Fox was simply a thing to be looked at, and if she raised a complaint it immediately rebounded and became her fault—and while she bears responsibility for her words, the media should also bear responsibility to examine the surrounding circumstances, something that did not seem to happen in 2009.
The relationship between Needy and Jennifer also became a victim of poor marketing and bad timing: their much-hyped kiss is more nerve-wracking than anything, and while it’s certainly still framed as erotic, there’s a bit more going on to it than just titillation. Instead of a scene simply existing for the pleasure of the straight men in the audience, it is a tense, complicated moment between two girls who have become trapped in an unhealthy, codependent relationship as they try to navigate what it means to be women in a society that tries to hinder them at, if not every turn, then certainly quite a few. One of the film’s most telling scenes parallels Needy and Chip having sex with Jennifer seducing and then ripping out the intestines of Needy’s friend Colin (Kyle Gallner), and Needy sees Jennifer in her mind’s eye as her boyfriend awkwardly goes to town; Needy and Jennifer could be a love story thwarted by a patriarchal, heteronormative world. Or maybe they’re just unhealthily codependent.
Yet for all its different interpretations and commentary, the context of Jennifer’s Body remains more interesting than the content. The commentary generated from the film proves deeper than what the film actually gives viewers to work with; the premise of a young girl (especially one who says, “I go both ways”) being sacrificial lamb for an otherwise-normal-seeming group of young men intrigues, but the follow up doesn’t do as much interrogating as it should, opting instead for standard horror beats (and an infusion of high school comedy) with all-too-brief moments that reveal something more lurking underneath. It’s not quite enough of a horror film and it’s not quite enough of a comedy, though all the seeds are there.
But while it may not be profound as its cultural reassessment purports, Jennifer’s Body is a fun excursion with strong performances (and J.K. Simmons with a hook for a hand!) whose ideas at least spark conversation outside of the film, if not from within.
Jennifer’s Body Trailer