Being a teenage girl is horror. Perhaps no other movie presents this so eloquently as Diablo Cody (Juno) and Karyn Kusama’s (The Invitation) contemporary teen horror classic. Jennifer’s Body (2009) tells the story of two friends, Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), in the aftermath of a tragic night as Jennifer transforms into a man-eating demon and Needy does all she can to stop her. With a premise like that, unassuming viewers may be surprised to find a movie that’s actually a very thoughtful portrayal of adolescent female friendship, sexuality, and shared trauma.
I can only speak from my own past experience with being a teenage girl, but I hope it will also resonate with others out there when I say how much feels unknown and new as a teenage girl. It can feel like your body is wrong or that it belongs to someone other than yourself entirely. It’s messy, it’s bloody, it’s weird, and it’s incredibly nuanced in a way that I would argue we don’t always have the pleasure of seeing in movies featuring teenage girls. One thing that we can often see in teen movies portraying this uncertain time is the hot girl friend who loves to have sex accompanied by the more timid, “homely” girl who is less confident with her body.
“Looking back now, I see so much of my younger self in Jennifer’s Body, and I imagine a lot of people feel that way.”
In the case of Jennifer’s Body, Jennifer would certainly fall into the former category. The audience is treated to various sweeping shots of Jennifer walking down the hallway with everybody in her path drooling over her. She is well aware that all the boys in school are positively wrapped around her finger and seems to revel in this knowledge in a way that makes you say, “good for her.” Of course, some of the genius of this movie lies in the way that the audience’s expectations of this character get completely flipped on its head.
And then there’s Needy. She’s gorgeous as well, but markedly more reserved than Jennifer, and in a lesser movie, she would be portrayed as a complete prude. Needy, however, is shown being very comfortably intimate with her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) despite her position as less than overtly sexual. She likes having sex, but is less comfortable being as public about it as Jennifer. That rang much truer to my own experiences with sexuality, rather than the all or nothing approach we can see in TV and movies. This creates a much more nuanced contrast between Jennifer and Needy than if they were just polar opposites on the spectrum of sexual desire.
It’s worth mentioning that I hadn’t experienced Jennifer’s Body until about two months ago. There was an interview making the rounds on Twitter from a time when Megan Fox spoke up about the inappropriate way she was sexualized as a young girl in Hollywood. Before then, it had honestly been a long while since I had thought about Megan Fox, probably since around the time Jennifer’s Body came out in 2009. I have distinct memories of going to the theatre and seeing trailers for the movie about Megan Fox being hot and making out with Amanda Seyfried, and wanting nothing to do with it. You see, in 2009 I was around 12 years old and I thought I hated Megan Fox. Luckily as an adult, I understand that I don’t hate Megan Fox. I think she is unreasonably cool and incredibly hot, and I don’t think my 12-year-old brain knew what to do with that feeling when it had exclusively been reserved for boys. Maybe if I had watched Jennifer’s Body earlier, I would’ve come to terms with the fact that not only boys are attractive.
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Based on the misguided marketing for this movie, I can see how I could have been so wrong about what Jennifer’s Body was. While it is true that Megan Fox is a very attractive person, playing a character who knows she’s very attractive, we also see the ways in which that can be weaponized against her. Early in the movie, Jennifer and Needy go to a bar to check out the sad boy-indie band, Low Shoulder. Jennifer captures the attention of lead singer, Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody) and Needy overhears him talking about Jennifer to his bandmates, particularly focused on her perceived virginity. Shockingly, during Low Shoulder’s performance, the bar is engulfed in flames, killing a large number of the people inside. Jennifer and Needy escape, and in a complete daze, Jennifer gets into the band’s van and is taken away into the night.
“It’s hard to feel anything but burning injustice as we watch a gaunt-looking Jennifer, in need of her next feed, tearfully smearing makeup all over her face before the school dance.”
It feels awful. We see through Needy’s eyes the vacant expression on Jennifer’s face as Nikolai slams the door shut, and the mind immediately connects the dots of where this will go. However, for most of the movie, we don’t know the specifics of what happened to Jennifer that night, and yet it feels like we don’t need to know. It likely comes as a shock when we learn that the band tied Jennifer up and didn’t sexually assault her. Instead, they tried to sacrifice her to the devil. This ritual goes awry due to the fact that they needed a virgin sacrifice, and Jennifer is decidedly not a virgin. In this vein, her transformation into a full-on succubus could also be seen as her punishment for having sex and in turn not giving these men what they wanted or being what they wanted her to be.
Regardless of the details of the trauma experienced by Jennifer, the outcome remains the same. Jennifer becomes the monster. She shows up at Needy’s house that same night drenched in blood, shrieking, devouring all the meat in the fridge, and promptly vomiting a thick black goo all over the floor. The botched ritual has turned Jennifer into a demon that loses its beauty and power unless it eats human flesh. Because of what was done to her, she is now trapped in a position where she has to feed on other people or die.
Amidst the tragedy of this situation, I also can view this in a way where it is strangely empowering. When something awful happens to you, when your sense of self physically and mentally is compromised, that part of your brain that makes you a functioning human being in day to day life can shatter. You feel so out of your head, out of your body, that you act in ways you never thought you would and in ways that you can’t explain. You feel like a monster, and yeah, maybe you want to devour some people after something like that is done to you. Once again, this movie deviates from a more clear cut rape-revenge story because the boys that Jennifer kills didn’t do anything to her directly, rather they are stand-ins for the ones who did.
That being said, it’s hard to feel anything but burning injustice as we watch a gaunt-looking Jennifer, in need of her next feed, tearfully smearing makeup all over her face before the school dance. She did not ask for this and she does not deserve this and there is no situation in which she would. She doesn’t get to enjoy something as simple and fun as a school dance and I find a lot of tragedy in that moment. No matter how hot she is, no matter how much she wanted to hook up with Nikolai, no matter how bizarre and cruel she may be, it is unfair that these men saw her as a target.
“Hell is a teenage girl, and horror is the roadmap through it.”
Amidst the violence we are shown in tandem with sexuality in Jennifer’s Body, we are also shown a much more tender, intimate version of sexuality, most evidently between Jennifer and Needy. In fact, the only time we see a sexual encounter that doesn’t involve someone crying or getting their guts ripped out is the highly anticipated girl-on-girl make-out scene. It’s certainly possible that this was thrown in the trailer to get butts in seats, but I also don’t want to ignore the real value this has in the storytelling of this movie. Needy is the only person Jennifer can stop herself from killing while they are being intimate and she’s very intentional about it. Their romantic scene is slow and sweet, and stands in sharp contrast to the other sex scenes in the movie, full of blasting 2000s pop-rock and rapid cutting between shots.
For me, this highlights the intensity of teenage female friendships that runs so deep through this movie. As (mostly) an adult now, I have the privilege of looking back on insane friendship blowouts that I had as a teenager and realize that nothing was that serious. But the fact of the matter is at that time, it felt like the end of the world because those feelings were really that intense. Jennifer’s Body is able to capture the essence of that emotion in a single image when Jennifer and Needy are holding hands during Low Shoulder’s performance at the bar before everything goes to shit. When Jennifer lets go of Needy‘s hand, you can see all the blood stopped flowing where Jennifer‘s fingers were because they were holding onto each other so tight. That visual is what all my female friendships felt like as a teenager. Those were the people I could talk to on the phone for hours without getting bored, there were the people I could stay up with until the sun rose, laughing or crying. I shared the grossest, darkest parts of my heart and soul with those girls, and they were the people I trusted to never hurt me.
Looking back now, I see so much of my younger self in Jennifer’s Body, and I imagine a lot of people feel that way. Mostly I’m just furious that I didn’t find it sooner. As I sit here, listening to this movie’s unparalleled soundtrack and writing these words, I feel unstoppable. Imagine how it would’ve been if I had felt like this when I was 15 instead of 22! I would have felt so incredibly seen and validated if I had watched this when I was a suffering teenager and the world needs more life-affirming shit like this. Jennifer’s Body is a vicious, heartbreaking, bloody, funny, and out and out strange movie. The experience of being a girl coming-of-age is so in line with horror and this movie is a shining example of the value in expressing those nasty, scary feelings. Hell is a teenage girl, and horror is the roadmap through it.
What was your first experience with Jennifer’s Body? Were you as infatuated as I was, or was it too hot to handle? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!