The aim of every movie trailer is to attract an audience prior to the film’s release. Clips and excerpts selectively chosen to generate interest. But while the trailer does have selected shots from the film, it’s not always an accurate representation of the film. In the case of Jennifer’s Body, the trailers opted to put the sex appeal of starlet Megan Fox as the focal point, and gave the impression of a more straightforward, less comedic horror film. The marketing team chose to target Fox’s male fanbase and downplay the actual plot and tone of the film.
Upon release, Jennifer’s Body was met with mostly negative reviews, outrage, and a ton of misconceptions about what the film really was. Though critical reevaluation and appreciation for Jennifer’s Body has been gaining momentum in the near 10 years since theatrical release, the film is still often referred to as a “guilty pleasure.” There’s nothing wrong with liking Jennifer’s Body; it’s a legitimately great horror comedy with pitch-black humor, clever themes, a loving deconstruction of horror tropes, and brilliant subtext. It’s long past time we embrace it.
In the follow up collaboration between writer/producer Diablo Cody and producer Jason Reitman after Juno, Cody wanted to play homage to horror while subverting it at the same time. Megan Fox is the beautiful, popular cheerleader type as Jennifer Check. Her best friend is Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried), a bookish meek girl that comfortably sits in Jennifer’s shadow. Needy’s name an obvious play on the beginning dynamic between the lifelong best friends. Needy admires her friend and consistently bends to Jennifer’s dominating will. Even when it has tragic consequences. The irony, though, is that it’s Jennifer who needs Needy. Behind Jennifer’s confidence is a wavering sense of self-confidence buckling under the pressures of societal expectations.
Jennifer feeds off Needy’s admiration to fuel her own sense of self-worth. After Jennifer is sacrificed by the Satanic band Low Shoulder in exchange for fame and fortune, Jennifer’s non-virgin status results in her coming back irrevocably demonic. Now, instead of feeding off Needy’s attention, she literally feeds off boys to maintain her youth and beauty. The shift allows Needy the breathing room to find her own inner strength, to realize she can stand alone outside of Jennifer’s shadow.
From a female horror fan perspective, the complex relationship between Needy and Jennifer really resonates. It provides the emotional heartbeat of the film, but more so it’s authentically rendered. A flashback sequence reveals a blood pact made in the sandbox, and the best friends were inseparable since. High school, and puberty, is a time where those friendships are at their most intense, and it’s also a time where those friendships are forever changed. Jennifer was always selfish and parasitic, it just took Needy a demonic possession to finally see that.
For all of Jennifer’s personal flaws, though, you pity her. Despite appearances, Jennifer isn’t self-assured, and her violation at the hands of the band she revered left her extremely vulnerable. While Needy is growing stronger and more confident, Jennifer never recovers from her defilement. The more Needy pulls away the harder Jennifer clings to the friendship, the sole tether to her fading humanity. Her taste for ripping boys apart with her unhinged jaw is driven by her inner demon, both literal and metaphorical. That Jennifer has essentially come back from the dead as a succubus is intentional.
Jennifer’s Body is the epitome of a female-driven horror film. Fox doesn’t get near the credit deserved for her nuanced performance as the ruthless yet vulnerable Jennifer. Seyfried easily carries the weight of the story as the protagonist, too. Director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) stuck closely to Diablo Cody’s razor sharp-witted script, letting its themes speak for itself. The snappy dialogue and brutal kills at the hands (and teeth) of Jennifer’s demonic form make for a fun, pitch black horror film enjoyable on its own when taken at surface value. But below the surface is a depth of introspection on adolescence, friendships, trauma, and how appearances are nearly always deceiving. As if there wasn’t already enough going on, Cody and Kusama also use the story to toy with horror convention. The concept of the Final Girl is taken to task head-on, both in that the killer is female and that the surviving female isn’t pure either; throughout the credits she’s become a killer as well.
Is Jennifer’s Body scary? No, not really, though there are some pretty creepy moments. But it doesn’t shy away from the gore at all, and the demonic slasher with a twisted sense of humor makes for a really fun movie that was unfairly badmouthed upon release. More than that, Jennifer’s Body has a lot to say. Its female-centric themes mean it’s not aimed at everyone, but that’s okay. No movie is. It wasn’t just the marketing that did the movie in back in 2009, but the backlash against Fox and Cody. It’s a shame, because though the film isn’t perfect it’s way better than it was given credit for. This is yet another horror movie the critics got wrong. Jennifer’s Body was just ahead of its time.