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Jennifer’s Body: Watch Out Boys, She’ll Chew You Up

Jennifer’s Body: Watch Out Boys, She’ll Chew You Up

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

I was 11 when I first saw Jennifer’s Body (2009), and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. As I got older, I realized there were other films that also use the young woman becoming monstrous as a metaphor for coming of age – Ginger Snaps (2000) and Carrie (1976) to name a few.

However, others did not embrace Jennifer’s Body like I had. In fact, it bombed at the box office, condemned as a tonally confused horror film that oversexualised its female lead. Such reactions reflect the common criticism that horror films are largely misogynistic due to their objectification and abuse of the women on screen. However, Jennifer’s Body is an example of 21st century female film creators staging interventions in the male dominated genre, actively denying misogynistic tendencies and focusing on a strong female narrative and viewpoint that reflects the real horror women face in society. After being sacrificed to Satan, Jennifer (Megan Fox) becomes possessed and begins to exact her revenge on the boys that hurt her. 

Interviewed for the film’s 10 year anniversary, screenwriter, Diablo Cody, explicitly states that Jennifer’s Body was a film about female friendship written for a young, female audience. She wanted it to be an insane and weird take on sex and revenge and empowerment. Cody also knew that only Megan Fox could be Jennifer, wanting the film to play on Fox’s star persona. Both Cody and director, Karyn Kusama, understood what kind of film they were making and took advantage of working as a female creative team to make observations about young women and their realities. 

While the cast and crew were proud of what they had created, studio executives thought that the best way to market the film was to oversexualise Fox in order to target a young, male audience. Following Fox’s role in Transformers, a film which leered at and objectified Fox, executives were convinced that this movie would be most successful with young, straight men, who would want to see sexy Fox doing sexy things. Kusama and Cody even had to beg for the film not to be promoted on porn sites. It was as if they hadn’t even seen the movie, which made fun of that very objectification of Fox and literally had her eating the boys who only saw her for her body. All marketing focused on Fox’s ‘hotness’, making sure to also foreground the kiss between the two female leads. The marketing therefore excluded the film’s intended audience. It also meant that when people did eventually see the movie, they expected something raunchy and sexy with a scantily clad Megan Fox. Instead they saw a story about female friendship where Megan Fox eats boys. Those who went expecting to see Fox on display were disappointed, and the intended audience was put off seeing the film entirely. Amidst all this confusion and disappointment, what the film was actually doing was lost. 

One of the most radical things Jennifer’s Body does is subvert the male gaze  

by aligning viewers with a female point of view. The film opens with an anonymous point of view shot. This shot is familiar to viewers of horror films as it is often used to align the viewer with the point of view of the (usually male) killer. The scene then cuts to inside the house, where we first see Jennifer. Due to the assumed alignment with a male killer, the viewer expects Jennifer to be the object of a man’s gaze, yet this is overturned when we see that it is her friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried), looking. From the very beginning, the film aligns viewers with this female gaze. In addition, the film also points out how, traditionally, viewers are forced to adopt this straight, heterosexual male position. In a scene in which Jennifer is swimming after a kill, the film deliberately prepares viewers to see Jennifer naked. The scene is filmed in slow motion, complete with intense music. We see shots of her bare back as she climbs out of the water; her feet, her shoulders. Yet, right when viewers expect to see nudity, the film cuts to her fully dressed and walking away. This is jarring as it is not what we expected, which in turn makes us question why we were expecting it in the first place – because other films typically leer at their female characters. 

In Jennifer’s Body, viewers do not look at the female leads as objects, but rather active agents who look at themselves and demand our attention. Even when Jennifer is attacked, we don’t completely see the violence of her attack. Instead, we stay on a close up of her face and her terror, aligning us fully with her rather than her attackers. Additionally, the scene that was often criticized as being exploitative and included solely to tantalize male viewers, is the kiss between Jennifer and Needy. However, this scene is also from a female perspective. Cody herself explained that she felt the need, and the freedom, to include such a scene, as it was an important aspect to the girls’ relationship. 

The film’s female characters also don’t fit neatly into traditional horror stereotypes. Jennifer survives her attack precisely because she is not a virgin, and then goes on to actively control the rest of the narrative. While Needy is akin to the final girl – the last girl standing who kills the monster – it isn’t because she’s “good” or “pure”. Needy is not simply trying to survive, but is instead proactively attempting to stop Jennifer. Meanwhile, the film’s male characters are weak or ineffectual. The boys who Jennifer kills are naive, innocent, and vulnerable. Chip looks prepubescent and constantly needs to be protected by Needy. The band who sacrifices Jennifer needs her in order to become famous. Such a juxtaposition between these characters reinforces the fact that this is a film about strong women and female empowerment. This is why the film does not end when Needy finally kills Jennifer. Although she has stopped the demon, Needy remembers who the real villains are – the band who turned Jennifer into what she was. The film is not complete until viewers see Needy take revenge on those who killed Jennifer in the first place. 

So, what is so horrific about Jennifer’s Body? It must, perhaps obviously, be Jennifer. Not only does Jennifer commit the majority of the film’s violence, but her body is literally the site of horror. She bleeds, she vomits black bile, she cries. Her skin also deteriorates when her demonic hunger gets too strong, thus threatening to break the boundary between the internal demon and the external shell of Jennifer. Jennifer’s body is also horrific because it challenges the patriarchy. She is more powerful than any man, and thus disrupts the status quo. However, Jennifer is not the most horrific thing in the film. This is a movie about the realities and physical transformations of surviving an assault. While the assault explicitly makes Jennifer stronger, it also makes her more cynical and literally ends her normal teenage life. By interrupting and prolonging the scene in which Jennifer is tortured and sacrificed, the film points out that this type of violence against women is something that is expected in horror and is something viewers are used to seeing on screen. Not only that, the scene reflects the women’s reality of  being used and abused for the benefit of men. Fox has explained how Jennifer’s assault embodied how she was being treated at the time by studios and executives – that they were willing to use and abuse her in order to make money. 

This is the real horror of Jennifer’s Body. The male villains are not just your evil Michael Myers or Freddie Kruegers. They can also be the seemingly “nice guys”, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, even the Chips who are polite but don’t actually believe or listen to women. All of this perpetuates a society that brutalizes women in ways it often chooses to turn a blind eye to.

Ultimately, this film functions as a revenge fantasy. It is a fever dream by women who are turning a male dominated genre on its head to explicitly call out the very real, horrific dangers of a complacent society. If this film were to be released now, it would likely be a massive hit, heralded for its clever political and societal message. Perhaps, given how a film like Promising Young Woman (2020) was praised and embraced, people are finally ready and willing to tackle the issues presented in Jennifer’s Body. It’s important to remember, however, that while this film wasn’t originally successful, it did reach people. It reached an 11 year old me who saw women as funny and clever and strong. It touched the LGBTQ+ community, especially bisexual women, who finally felt seen in a way they hadn’t before. Jennifer’s Body is an immensely influential film, not only allowing a female voice to be heard in the predominantly male genre, but opening the floodgates for other voices to follow suit. 


Written by Innes Seggie for The Film Dispatch


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