Back in 2009, the world was introduced to the wildly divisive horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body, a teenage flick starring Megan Fox as a man-eating cheerleader turned demon. Due to some of the worst marketing imaginable, and probably the most misguided (or dare we say misogynistic) trailers seen in cinematic history, the film was publicly bulldozed when it first came out. However, in light of the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen the movie get somewhat of a revival, even being dubbed a cult classic. But what was it that changed people’s minds about this film? And, what does Jennifer’s Body really say about society, and horror movies as a whole? Well – spoiler alert – it paints a pretty damning picture.
Written by Juno writer Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, the female duo set out to create a horror movie that captures the essence of teenage girls’ experiences. Their efforts led them to Jennifer’s Body, one of those rare horrors that offer a true female perspective. By that, we mean written and directed by women for women, with no exploitative takes or sexually glorified rape-revenge storylines in sight.
It also hits that comedic sweet spot while giving you plenty of gore. The film is full of complex emotional themes, some incredible self-aware horror humour, and it has a banging soundtrack – making it, in our eyes, downright iconic, and completely undeserving of all the backlash it has received.
The movie opens up with Anita ‘Needy’ Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried), an unassuming teen locked up in an asylum. She acts as our narrator for the rest of the film, recalling the events that led to her current predicament, and telling us the story of her best friend Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), an insecure “it girl”. According to Needy’s memories, it all started when Jennifer asked Needy to come with her to see a sub-par indie rock band at their town’s local bar. Straight off the bat, here we are given one of (and I’m not saying this lightly) the most traumatising scenes I’ve ever seen in horror, period.
After a fire breaks out at the bar, Jennifer is abducted by the evil mediocre rockers, while Needy watches helplessly, knowing (like the audience) as soon as she sees her friend getting into the musicians’ truck that something bad is going to happen. After a build-up of morbid tension, we see Jennifer being restrained by the band members, and offered up as a virgin sacrifice to Satan in exchange for fame. Megan Fox’s acting is stunningly haunting as she cries desperately while being abused by the group of men who laugh as they stab her, essentially making fun of her as they kill her.
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The scene is a terrifying window into real-life rape culture, and women being forced to be tools to gratify men’s needs and wants. Seeing the scene happen to someone like Megan Fox, who was often unfairly reduced to a sex object in her previous films (we’re looking at you Transformers), it’s a scene that hits especially hard. The film calls on the depressing reality of this oppressive power dynamic that is feared or even experienced in some capacity by every identifying woman, therefore creating terror from a deep and very real place.
However, due to Jennifer being “not even a backdoor virgin anymore”, she doesn’t die after the ordeal but turns into a demon that needs human flesh to survive. Here the movie switches course and tonally becomes a lot more fun. The horror elements shift dramatically from real deep emotional places to turning into a retributive slasher that makes you laugh. Jennifer starts killing boys around her school, turning them “into lasagnas with teeth”.
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Switching Jennifer’s power dynamic from being a victim to now a demonic cannibal, fully in control, and taking revenge on all men, is oddly satisfying after everything we’ve witnessed. You form a deep attachment to Jennifer’s character, and weirdly find yourself rooting for the antagonist. Cheering for a fictional killer is nothing new but sympathising so deeply with them is. Also, seeing a woman embrace the slasher mentality is still rare to experience in most horrors, making Jennifer’s Body a standout in the genre.
The tragedy and bloody deaths are accompanied by Mean Girls-esque editing and hilarious one-liners that take black comedy to a whole other level. The 2000s was an iffy time, and lots of horror films from that period haven’t aged well. However, despite a few questionable lines of dialogue here or there, what partly makes Jennifer’s Body so iconic is the fact that it’s still enjoyable today.
As mentioned previously, there are some killer lines, my personal favourite being when the evil musician says to Jennifer, “Let’s get you somewhere safe, you know? Like the back of my van.” Or another classic being, after Needy stabs her, Jennifer standing in a prom dress with a pole through her gut, says while covered in blood, “You got a tampon?” It’s stupidly brilliant, and I can watch this film countless times and still crack up whenever I do.
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Finally, Jennifer’s Body shows striking maturity in its writing, giving us complex depictions of toxic friendships, and the often underrepresented experience of questioning your sexuality. Needy and Jennifer’s relationship is extremely recognisable, full of depth, and puts a unique down to earth teenage girl spin on a supernatural story that you’ll struggle to find in any other horror movie.
It’s also understandable why the movie flopped, since 20th Century Fox, as if forgetting that Twilight proved the financial viability of the teenage girl audience, marketed Jennifer’s Body to young men instead. The studio even went so far as to pitch the idea to promote the film via an amateur porn site, trying to capitalise on Megan Fox’s sex appeal, and ironically becoming guilty of having the very same exploitive mindset which turned Jennifer into the blood-hungry demon that we see in the movie.
However, regardless of the bad marketing decisions, the fact that Jennifer’s Body wasn’t seen for the horror standout that it is from the get-go, also shows that horror movies are still largely dominated by male stories. A teenage girl narrative, for some reason, wasn’t given a base level of respect until years later. Jennifer’s Body (and Megan Fox) deserve an apology, and the film should be recognised for the iconic, stupidly fun masterpiece that it is.