‘Jennifer’s Body’: The Horror Classic I’ve Been Missing Out On For Over A Decade

Jennifer’s Body, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, premiered in 2009. Admittedly, I avoided the movie. I am not a huge horror fan, so anything within that realm of the genre did not appeal to me. I vaguely remember seeing trailers and immediately making up my mind to skip it once I saw Megan Fox become some sort of demonic creature thing. Diablo Cody was riding high off the success of her first feature film script, Juno, and expectations from everyone for this movie were sky high. Megan Fox (who plays the titular role of Jennifer) had become the “it” girl of the time, having just starred in the blockbuster hit, Transformers, and the sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, that premiered a few months before Jennifer’s Body. Everyone wanted a piece of her, it seemed, in some capacity. So much so, that the desire to see more of her somewhat overshadowed the fact that Amanda Seyfried was also starring in the movie. 

TM and © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

After the movie premiered, I remember the discourse around it, and it wasn’t positive. Words like disappointment, lame, and awful floated in and out of my social circles after people saw it. It looked as though many people had formed preconceived notions about what the movie would be before they saw it. I assume they were expecting more gore and possible nudity, especially with the R rating. Audiences also seemed to split once they saw this movie when it came to Megan Fox. A large majority of people appeared to turn on her and claim they were over her. Time and time again, even in the present day, I’ve heard so much about how Megan Fox can’t act and how she’s the worst, appearing to stem from this time period when she had these two movies released in one year. She was tossed aside and made an outcast just like so many other actresses that don’t meet the public’s specific demands and standards.

By now, the movie has found its audience and has a strong cult-like following. People are discovering and rediscovering it. Since I am older and more desensitized to a few horror elements (gore being the main one), I’m giving more of the movies I missed the first time around a try. Finally, twelve years and a few months after Jennifer’s Body was released, I watched it, and with my expectations being relatively low, it far exceeded them, and I sort of loved it. It is twisted and complex in the best way. Much to the dismay of audiences in 2009, it is not at all scary in the traditional sense aside from a few jumpy moments. It does have plenty of blood and gore, but again, it’s probably still not enough for most seasoned horror fans, and the acting and story were more than satisfactory in my eyes. 

In the simplest and most basic description, it is a campy horror romp, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. I greatly enjoy that this movie subverts expectations, and I think many people did not like that. The writing, in typical Diablo Cody fashion, is sharp and quippy. Even if a few lines haven’t aged well, overall it remains darkly funny, relevant, and effective. I often found myself guffawing and laughing throughout. The visual effects of the film are wonderful as well. The scenes between Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer talking normally and just Needy alone, especially, are often shot with a warmth, softness, and vibrancy that give the appeal of being inside a teenage girl’s head as opposed to the darkness and sharpness of the scenes with traditional horror elements. Jennifer and Needy, short for Anita, are mostly three dimensional. Even though Jennifer is one track minded at times, the movie does a good job of displaying her more introspective aspects without defaulting to spelling it out with dialogue. 

The roles couldn’t have been more perfectly cast, and the relationship between the two girls is complicated and nuanced. It isn’t one dimensional and shallow and explored more dynamics of female friendships than most movies did at the time. There is the overwhelming sense that Needy has always been and is still heavily infatuated with Jennifer, but even after a scene that has the two friends kiss, that facet of the relationship remains ambiguous. Needy could want to be Jennifer. She could want to be with her romantically. She maybe just has a deep, supernatural connection to Jennifer, so it’s like loving a part of herself, or she could just want to keep her near her in order to soak up that effervescent magnetism and power that Jennifer radiates. Everyone wants a piece of Jennifer and needs her in some way, but does anyone in the movie ever ask Jennifer what she needs? I find it interesting that Needy’s name is Needy because she isn’t really all that “needy” is she? Diablo Cody has mentioned that the name came from her initial intention of making the character have a “needy” disposition, but she decided against writing the character that way but kept the name anyways. I like that she did. It makes things entangled and makes the audience question things. 

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Needy has an attentive boyfriend, a semi-stable home life, and a close friend with whom she gets to bask in a secondhand limelight. Jennifer constantly needs attention–some of it from Needy but the majority of it being male attention. Jennifer is projecting some of her own frustrations and feelings onto Needy, and so she perceives her friend as needy. Needy is also more passive and has always been a doormat to Jennifer. Jennifer lives in a constant positive feedback loop of getting attention for the way she looks and acts. It reaffirms to her that her only real value to both men and women is her body and visual appearance. The mirroring of Megan Fox’s own life, especially at the time, is eerily uncanny.

The more painful themes of sexual assault and mistreament of people who have been sexually assaulted are woven in throughout the movie. The scenes leading up to the sacrifice of Jennifer and the actual sacrifice are particularly telling and dark. Even though Diablo Cody’s acidic humor remains on the surface, underneath there is an honest and accurate depiction of predatory attitudes, behaviors, and language. It’s probably the scariest and most hopeless part of the movie. From the moment we meet the aptly named Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody), the frontman of the band, Low Shoulder, the girls go see in concert, there is a predacious energy and demeanor that exudes from him. The pit that fell into my stomach at this moment only grew larger and larger with every interaction he had with the girls. He believes that he has every right to any of the young girls in that town in any fashion he desires, and no one has told him differently. He gets a high when exerting power and control over his prey. He singles out Jennifer and makes sure she is drunk, so he can take advantage of her.

The entirety of the sacrifice scene is social commentary on sexual assault and misogyny. Some of the dialogue can be more pointed and on the nose at times, but even so, it is powerful and frightening. The band must have a virgin for the sacrifice, and with this requirement, Diablo Cody further pokes at actual expectations and conversation in our society about how a woman’s virtue is the most valuable thing she can possess and must be protected (not to mention the whole misogyny intertwined in religion thing). Nikolai and none of the other members even bothered or cared to know Jennifer’s name before this encounter. He refers to her as “this chick” before asking her name to complete the ritual. She is just another faceless and soulless object to him to use in order to gain power. He explains that the band wants more success, and what they have now is not enough. In order to get more, they must “bleed her.” Predators take everything from their victims; they bleed them, and there is also the larger problem of our patriarchal society stripping pieces away from women until there’s nothing left of them in order to keep them in their place. It is perceived as masculine to take and feminine to give or submit. The shot of Jennifer walking home alone in the dark, bloodied with lifeless eyes and a shell of her former self, is haunting. It draws parallels to real life rape culture—how people who have been sexually assaulted are often ostracized, blamed for what happened to them, and alone with no help or support afterwards. 

The movie trope that female characters are stronger after sexual assault and that it defines them is not perpetuated in this movie. It is more like these boys and men took everything from this young woman, and she is now an empty shell. She has transformed into something that they all wanted, an aesthetically pleasing body that is there to be looked at and touched but also won’t bother them with real boundaries, wants, or needs. Something that won’t stop them from taking; she invites them in and gives them everything they want, but it’s only too late that they realize it isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be and actually harms them too. In the end, Needy doesn’t need her boyfriend, Chip, to save her. She saves herself, and he happens to be a pawn in Jennifer’s plan, unfortunately. Needy finds strength within the understanding and bond of female friendship, but tragically, she must forever grieve the loss of her friend and possible love. With a little bit of Jennifer’s boldness, power, and strength that shs has gained, Needy is able to go forth and make changes in some way even if it only means getting revenge on Nikolai and the rest of the band. Power dynamics are constantly observable throughout the movie.

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[youtube https://youtu.be/mC3tkheD5gc]

This was a horror movie made by women for women. Sadly, the (all male) marketing team missed the point entirely. Since revisiting the trailer, it reads very, “Megan Fox is hot. Look how sexy she is as a weird, boy-killing monster. You might get to see her topless in this and possibly see an added lesbian sex scene between Megan Fox and that other girl in the movie.” Look at the different posters for the movie, too. They’re all Megan Fox doing a sensual pose wearing a revealing outfit reminiscent of a private school girl uniform or a just cheerleading uniform. One poster has “HELL YES!” scrawled across a blackboard behind her as she sits on a desk with a hand poking out of it. What does that even mean? Is it referring to the satanic ritual in the movie in the most obscure way possible? No wonder audiences (a lot of men) hated this movie. They felt like they got the ole bait and switch. They probably also found it annoying and disappointing that the movie didn’t completely sexualize and objectify Megan Fox as promised, so they had to ignore the happenings on screen and make the effort to do it themselves. The marketing was displaying everything the movie was combatting. Both Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama were trying to show how harmful it is to women to deduce them to soulless bodies–even worse, just body parts. Not only is it damaging to women’s psyches, but sexual assualt and predatory behavior are born from this system and structure. 

Courtesy of 2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

I think the movie was ahead of its time, especially during the volatile and strange time of the early aughts where we seemed to have a regression in our views and treatment of sexual assualt and women as people. Was it groundbreaking cinema? No, but it definitely deserved more than the hatred it got at the time. It was misunderstood, and of course, the loudest exclamations of “it’s terrible” are often the impressions heard first and tend to sway public opinion the most. I’m pleased that it has found its audience now and is being reconsidered even though it is disconcerting that it took this long. After hearing about how awful it is all of these years, I would say it’s surprising that it’s not even close to awful in any shape or form, but it’s not really surprising at all. I enjoyed it, and while watching it, I felt like it was more something for me–a wavelength that I could understand. It isn’t every day that I come across a horror movie that I feel was made more for someone like me. I love that it is empowering to women and spits in the face of misogyny. Much like many things in life, it is more layered and intricate than it seems upon first glance.

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