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A Look Back in Film: ‘Jennifer’s Body’ is Sapphic Horror Feminism At Its Finest

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Just over a decade after the release of the horror film “Jennifer’s Body,” viewers are beginning to observe the film in a new light. Upon its release in 2009, critics tore the film apart with brutal reviews, giving it a 45% on the Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer and, not to mention, a 35% audience score. The general consensus was that the film missed the mark, especially in the horror category, with many saying it was not scary enough and over-sexualized. Despite its initial rejection, the film is currently regarded as holding a deeper meaning, exploring intense themes of sexuality, female empowerment and the complexity of the best-friend dynamic in teen girls.  

Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody, “Jennifer’s Body” is about a mega-hot cheerleader “it” girl turned possessed, boy-hungry demon Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and her nerdy, ultra-loyal best friend Anita “Needy” Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried). After one girls’ night out turns Satanic, Jennifer is left starving, and the only thing to satiate the hunger is teenage boys. 

Photos provided by MADE|NOUS @made_nous/Twitter

It is likely that this film explored ideas that were simply ahead of its time, when the vast majority of people were not as receptive to the progressive movements of our current political climate. In recent years, the film has gained new respect and a cult following as more people watch it through a queer, feminist lens. 

In an interview with Variety, the film’s writer Cody mentioned that the “intended audience [was] young women.” However, “Fox Atomic chose to market the film to young men” due to Fox’s undeniable sex appeal and success in the “Transformers” film, which is likely why it flopped so hard upon its initial release. The movie was meant to be watched for its subtext rather than its outward gore and over-the-top antics.

In a scene after a fire burns down the local bar while Needy and Jennifer are watching the band Low Shoulder, the members convince an in-shock Jennifer to get into their van. The band members, led by Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody), try to sacrifice her virgin body to Satan. However, there’s one problem: she’s not a virgin. 

Following the attempted sacrifice, Jennifer is starving. She goes to Needy’s house, where she tears apart a Boston Market rotisserie chicken before spewing black-sludge barf all over the kitchen floor. Later that same night, she finds out that the only thing to satiate the hunger is teenage boys. 

Even before Jennifer gets in the car, Needy expresses concern for her safety with a group of rock-star strangers, especially in the midst of such a traumatic event, and she was right to worry. The situation — one girl, a group of guys and a creepy white van — feels eerily familiar to the audience as we stress with Needy about the unknown horrors Jennifer could be facing. 

While not in the way we’d likely expect, Jennifer is taken advantage of and is changed forever because of the experience. Her newfound need to eat boys might be a form of revenge against the men that violated her and a nod to survivors of sexual assault. The retribution that Jennifer exerts against the boys in her town is a kind of retaliation against the male-centered world she lives in, a way for her to assert her power and dominance as a woman. At the time of the film’s release, female empowerment was not as focused on reclaiming one’s body and sexual positivity. Now with the rise of the #MeToo and body positivity movements, the movie has been reappraised with different perspectives. 

One of the most intriguing aspects of this film is the intense relationship between Jennifer and Needy. Their relationship is the most central to the movie, despite all of the boys Jennifer seduces to kill and the fact that Needy has a boyfriend. This is likely intentional to showcase that, on some level, Needy and Jennifer have feelings for one another that extend beyond friendship. 

Their adoration of one another is explicit in the camerawork as well as the dialogue. The story is told from Needy’s perspective after the events of the film. While Jennifer is the obvious antagonist, the camera works with her favorably in a way it does not with other characters. She gets multiple loving, slow-motion montages that paint her as unfathomably gorgeous and untouchable, just as Needy sees her. Her beauty is obvious, and Needy acknowledges that with aggressive adoration and warmth. 

Photo provided by MADE|NOUS @made_nous/Twitter

The devotion these two girls have to one another is not unlike many young, queer friendships. While it is not directly stated, and the girls might not even know it themselves, Needy and Jennifer are in love with each other. They flirt and compete with one another, eventually sharing an infamous kiss in Needy’s room. While many think of this kiss as playing into the male gaze and obsession with “girl-on-girl” relationships, the kiss is much too passionate and intimate to be brushed off as Jennifer’s possessed manipulation of Needy. 

Even to argue that their kiss means nothing, the drive of the film is still ultimately their relationship. Both girls actively seek out and date men, while their thoughts are always of one another. This is very telling of the time this movie came out: when the world was still openly judgemental in regards to lesbian relationships. The boys are side characters lacking personality and profundity, whereas Jennifer and Needy are explored in great depth. While their relationship does not end happily, Needy continues to pursue her obsession with her best friend in the aftermath of the film’s events. As she says, “sandbox love never dies.” 

“Jennifer’s Body” has left an intense cultural impact on the world that cannot be ignored. While it was not appreciated for its genius motifs in its time, people are finally starting to acknowledge its feminist undertones and deeper meanings. It strives against the stereotypes of mainstream horror where women are constantly tormented, while simultaneously attempting to normalize lesbian relationships in the foreground of films. 

The film’s main themes of feminism and female empowerment were initially ignored when it first came out, which is likely why audiences found no meaning or depth to the movie back in 2009. Now a major cult classic, “Jennifer’s Body” is finally getting the recognition it deserved all along, accruing a loyal, devoted fanbase to carry on the story. 

Lillian Dunn is an Entertainment Contributing Writer for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at lbdunn.uci.edu.